By Lincoln Arneal
Based on the numbers, Nebraska shouldn’t have beaten Ohio State.
The seventh-ranked Buckeyes finished with 18 more kills, 18 more digs and a higher hitting percentage.
However, the No. 3 Huskers committed fewer errors and used an effective block to outlast Ohio State 25-22, 24-26, 19-25, 25-20,15-13 Saturday in front of 8,342 fans at Devaney Center.
“That was a tough match to watch because we struggled,” coach John Cook said. “I told them there were three things that won that: heart, with each other, for each other and their grit that they displayed there because they could easily pack it in.”
Nebraska (10-1, 2-0 Big Ten) finished hitting .140 with 46 kills but helped its cause with a stingy defense that notched 15 blocks, compared to just five for OSU. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick led the way with eight blocks, including a stuff on the final point of the match with senior Madi Kubik.
Kaitlyn Hord finished with six blocks, while Kubik added five. Even when the Huskers didn’t get points off its block, they touched a lot of OSU attacks and slowed them down.
“We were blocking everything,” Cook said. “That’s one of the advantages of running a six two is we’ve got a lot of physicality at the net.”
OSU sometimes struggled to find the court. The Buckeyes (5-5, 1-1) committed 35 hitting errors, including 17 from Emily Londot, who also tallied 17 kills. OSU also was wild from the service line and had 20 service errors without an ace.
Kubik said they struggled to side out during the match, but their defense kept them in rallies. She said the win should give them confidence that if they can play this well when they aren’t in peak form, when everything is clicking the Huskers can be unstoppable.
“I think what’s so powerful about that match is that we know we can play badly and still win big games,” she said. “(We can) not play great volleyball all the time and just find a way to win ugly.”
The Huskers won the first set primarily on Ohio State’s errors. The Buckeyes missed on nine attacks, including three blocks by NU, and committed seven service errors – the last two were NU’s final two points in the set.
Ohio State cleaned up some of its errors in the second set. It ran six straight points to take a 19-14 lead. The Huskers rallied with a 6-1 run to tie the set at 24-all. The set ended with back-to-back NU miscues (a setting error and a hitting error).
It appeared that NU had regrouped and shaken off the close loss in the third set by scoring the first five points but the momentum didn’t last. The Buckeyes went on an 11-3 run, with NU’s points coming via two service errors and a hitting error.
OSU led by 17-10 before NU started to chip away. The Huskers closed to 20-18 after a block by Maggie Mendelson and Allick, but Ohio State responded with four straight points before back-to-back service errors closed the set.
After an eight-second violation on a Husker serve tied the set at 15-all, Nebraska won four of the next five rallies to pull ahead. NU also won four of the final five points as Linsday Krause and Maggie Mendelson delivered kills to force a tiebreaker set.
The fifth set was a slugfest as Nebraska and Ohio State combined for 65 attacks in just 28 rallies. It also featured 10 ties and six lead changes. No team led by more than one until Ohio State scored three in a row for an 11-9 lead. The Huskers rallied with a 4-0 run that included two OSU errors and a kill and block from Whitney Lauenstein.
Lauenstein finished with seven kills on 32 attacks but delivered in the clutch with three kills in the fifth set.
“We needed to play with our whole heart right there and everyone did it,” Lauenstein said. “Everyone was on it. You could just feel the entire Bob Devaney Sports Center was in. Everyone was playing with their heart.”
Krause added nine kills, but committed eight hitting errors.
Cook said the setting was better than the Big Ten opener against Michigan State on Friday but is still a work in progress. Sophomore Kennedi Orr tallied 20 assists. Junior Anni Evans had 18.
“I don’t think we’re anywhere near close to what we can be,” Cook said. “A lot of that will come down to setting. They are getting better. Once we get that, our hitters can get more confidence and take big swings and use the block. A lot of times tonight they’re just trying to keep it in.”
Lexi Rodriguez finished with a match-high 19 digs and recorded her first kill of the season in the fifth set after she dug an attack from Londot that sailed over the net and landed just inside the line.
Nebraska was also effective in limiting OSU’s middle blockers. Adria Powell hit .000 with just three kills, while second-team All-American Rylee Rader didn’t record a kill until the third set on her 10th attack. She finished with five kills and hit .174.
Jenaisya Moore led OSU with 21 kills on a .300 hitting percentage. Gabby Gonzales added 15 kills. The Buckeyes also had four players reach double-digit digs led by 17 from libero Kylie Murr and setter Mac Podraza.
At the end of the match, the Huskers celebrated with a dog pile, which Kubik admitted might have been caused by exhaustion as their legs were spent.
Cook choked up a little while talking to the team after the match. He said they’ve been working on close matches and found a way to deliver in the clutch in one of the most intense matches of the season.
“I got emotional just because I’m so proud of them and how they fought through it,” Cook said. “I’m nothing but proud of them. We work hard, and so it feels good when you are able to put in that hard work to make it worthwhile and to make it successful.”