By Lincoln Arneal
Following a disappointing loss at Ohio State, Nebraska didn’t suffer a hangover on Friday night.
Nebraska (23-3, 15-2) took care of business on the road with a 25-14, 25-17, 25-14 sweep over the Hawkeyes in front of a crowd of 3,987 fans at the Xtream Arena.
The sixth-ranked Huskers hit .330 while limiting Iowa to .093, the 11th time an NU opponent has hit below .100 this season.
“We never played real super clean here, but I thought our team did a really nice job of staying with it,” NU coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview. “They made some runs and we made some runs right back.”
After entering the Ohio State match for the final two sets, Kennedi Orr earned the start against Iowa as the Huskers’ second setter. The 6-foot sophomore tallied six assists in the first set and helped spark a 7-0 run that gave the Huskers a 13-5 run.
She finished the match with 11 assists and eight digs. Cook said Orr played great defense and developed a solid connection with her substitution partner, Lindsay Krause, who finished with 10 kills and a .471 hitting percentage.
In addition to her setting, Orr also was effective at the service line in the third set after struggling earlier this season.
“I was really proud of her tonight,” Cook said. “Hopefully, we’re gonna build on this, and Kennedi is just going to keep rising like a rocket.”
Iowa’s best effort came in the second set as they had the score tied at 14-all. However, the Huskers closed the set by winning 11 of the next 14 rallies.
The third set followed a similar pattern as the Hawkeyes (8-20, 2-15) hung close early, but NU pulled away with a 9-2 run to take a 22-12 lead.
Madi Kubik led the Husker offense with 14 kills on a .407 hitting percentage while Ally Batenhorst added 11 kills.
Nicklin Hames added 15 assists and six digs, while libero Lexi Rodriguez contributed 19 digs and seven assists. Kubik almost recorded a double-double with nine digs.
The only part of the Huskers offense that didn’t click was its middle attack. Bekka Allick finished with three kills on seven attacks while Kaitlyn Hord recorded one kill and two errors on seven swings.
Cook said NU never got into a rhythm passing and pulled their setters off the net often, and a couple missed connections early took away the setters’ confidence in setting the middles. In addition, Iowa’s defense was sitting in the Huskers’ middle whenever they had a good pass, trying to limit their effectiveness.
“It’s just hard to run middle from there,” he said. “But we’ll figure it out. We had a great week of practice emphasizing running middle and they did awesome. I thought we would light it up today in the middle but it seemed like every time we ran middle there were two blockers on it.”
The Huskers finished with five aces compared to just four errors. Cook said the defense made some great adjustments to Iowa’s servers. The match started with an ace by Hames and Iowa followed up with an ace two points later.
“Our passers did a really nice job of fighting through on really tough serves,” Cook said. “They got us short on a couple that we had to sprawl out for, and of course, we blew them up pretty good. We had some nice runs on them.”
Iowa was led by eight kills and three blocks from Amiya Jones.
While Nebraska was cruising to another sweep, they received good news from the other side of the conference as Maryland upset No. 5 Ohio State in four sets. The Terrapins recorded 16 blocks and limited OSU to hitting .153. National player of the week Emily Londot finished with 10 kills and 15 errors for the Buckeyes.
The loss by the Buckeyes drops them into a second-place tie with NU, a game behind Wisconsin. The Huskers control their destiny in the Big Ten title race with home matches against No. 19 Purdue, No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 9 Minnesota remaining.
The road ahead won’t be easy, and Cook said Ohio State’s loss shows that there are no off nights in the Big Ten.
“This is what we try to develop in our program, in our mindset and our culture – you got to bring it every night,” he said. “We could have had a mental letdown. I was worried how we were going to play tonight, but we had a great week of practice and our players got after it. They came in and went to work.”