In the Mix for a Big Ten Title

NU is still atop conference standings with two tough matches left

Story by Darren Ivy • Photos by Reggie Ryder

Lexi Sun walks in with her parents Conrad and Beth Sun during a special Senior Night recognition after the Penn State match on Nov. 19 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Sun was recognized along with Lauren Stivrins, Nicklin Hames, Kayla Caffey and Callie Schwarzenbach.
Lexi Sun walks in with her parents Conrad and Beth Sun during a special Senior Night recognition after the Penn State match on Nov. 19 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Sun was recognized along with Lauren Stivrins, Nicklin Hames, Kayla Caffey and Callie Schwarzenbach.

The NCAA Tournament is just around the corner and the Huskers should be prepared for their 40th straight trip as they have been playing those caliber of teams all season –11 ranked opponents thus far.

Two more – No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 7 Purdue – are still left on No. 11 Nebraska’s regular season schedule and those two road matches on Nov. 26 and No. 27 will likely determine the conference champion as each of those teams and Minnesota and Ohio State still have an outside chance.

“By our schedule, we determine our destiny,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said before the match against No. 15 Penn State on Nov. 19 that was won by the Huskers 2514, 25-23, 25-23.

Wisconsin faces Minnesota and Nebraska in two of final three matches while Purdue just faces Nebraska and Minnesota also faces Penn State.

Madi Kubik, Lauren Stivrins, Lindsay Krause and Nicklin Hames celebrate a point against Penn State.
Madi Kubik, Lauren Stivrins, Lindsay Krause and Nicklin Hames celebrate a point against Penn State.

The last two years, Wisconsin has won the Big Ten title while Minnesota and Nebraska have tied for second. The Huskers were third in 2018 after winning or sharing back-to-back conference titles in 2016 and 2017. NU also won its first Big Ten title back in 2011.

2021 has been a season of streaks for Nebraska. The Huskers started the season 5-0 before losing their final three non-conference matches to No. 20 Utah, No. 16 Stanford and NO. 5 Louisville.

The Huskers then started Big Ten play 9-0 before facing five ranked teams in a row from Oct. 23 to Nov. 6.

Kayla Caffey hits a shot against the Badgers.
Kayla Caffey hits a shot against the Badgers.

NU began the stretch with a 3-1 victory over No. 7 Purdue to move to 10-0 in conference play. The Huskers then were swept by nemesis and No. 3-ranked Wisconsin 3-0 (26-24, 25-19, 25-23) on Oct. 27 at the Devaney Center.

Three days later, Nebraska traveled to No. 11 Minnesota and fell 25-22, 28-30, 25-21, 23-25, 15-9.

The Huskers rebounded to sweep No. 25 Illinois in Champaign with a 25-20, 25-20, 25-21.

The 11th-ranked Nebraska volleyball team took care of business in a Senior Night sweep of the Nittany Lions in their regular season home finale to improve to 20-6 (14-3 Big Ten) on the season.

Abby Batenhorst makes an attack over the Wisconsin blockers.
Abby Batenhorst makes an attack over the Wisconsin blockers.

“That first game was one of the best games I’ve seen in 20 years of how we played. I mean, we were almost flawless,” Cook said.

Kenzie Knuckles smiles after making a play against the Terrapins.
Kenzie Knuckles smiles after making a play against the Terrapins.

NU won the final two sets by two points each to snap PSU’s four-match win streak and improve to 11-1 in the last 12 meetings with the Nittany Lions. The Huskers had to come back from a 22-15 deficit in set two to accomplish the win.

“They just caught fire and then you could just feel the whole momentum shift,” Cook said. “Our crowd was really into it … Then Penn State made a couple of hitting errors and that’s what great defense does to hitters. They start making errors. They played great defense against us, but we played a little better tonight. ”

Madi Kubik led the Huskers with 12 kills and added three digs, two blocks and an ace.

Nicklin Hames’ team-leading 18th double-double of the year came on a match-best 38 assists and a team-high 14 digs to go with a season-high four blocks.

Lexi Sun finished with eight kills, a block and an ace, and Kayla Caffey posted seven kills while hitting .636 with no errors and two blocks. Lauren Stivrins totaled six kills, tied her season high with seven blocks and added an ace.

Whitney Lauenstein celebrates a point with teammates against Maryland.
Whitney Lauenstein celebrates a point with teammates against Maryland.

Whitney Lauenstein came off the bench for an impactful five kills on .500 hitting over the second and third sets. She added two blocks.

“I just turned to my teammates and (Hames) was like, ‘Come on, let’s be Big Hit Whit tonight,’” said Lauenstein said. “I was like ‘Yeah, let’s be Big Hit Whit.’ I just look for my teammates to really bring me out of the tunnel vision you can have out there sometimes.”

Lexi Rodriguez and Keonilei Akana matched each other with 13 digs for the night.

As a team, Nebraska hit just .186 but kept Penn State to .088. The Huskers had the edge in kills (42-30), assists (42-29), aces (4-1), digs (56-50) and blocks (10-7). PSU counted eight service errors.

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