By Lincoln Arneal
At least for one night, Nebraska’s serving woes appeared to be a thing of the past.
The third-ranked Huskers aced Rutgers 12 times, twice their previous season high and the program’s fifth-most during the rally-scoring era, and committed just 8 service errors. Each of NU’s six servers recorded at least one ace. Sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez recorded three in the first eight rallies of the match. Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr also finished with three aces, including one on match point.
Behind its improved service game and its usual combination of elite defense and a lethal attack, NU cruised to a 25-13, 25-7, 25-15 sweep Friday night at Jersey Mike’s Arena.
NU coach John Cook said he thought the Huskers could have a good night serving because of how cold the gym was during their serve and pass practice earlier in the day.
“The ball was really moving in here today,” Cook said on his postgame radio show. “At practice today, I warned them. First of all, we can get aces if we thump. And two, they are going to thump at us, so be ready.”
Rutgers entered the match giving up a Big Ten-worst 1.63 aces per set. Nebraska more than doubled that total.
Behind Rodriguez’s serving in the first set, the Huskers (11-1, 3-0 Big Ten) dominated from the start. Later in the first set, freshman Bekka Allick served a 7-0 run to give NU a 16-5 advantage.
The second set was even more of a route as the Scarlet Knights only sided out just once. Three of RU’s seven points came via Husker service errors. Rutgers committed three service errors in the match, but two of them ended the first two sets. For the second straight match, the Huskers didn’t allow an ace.
The Scarlet Knights (7-8, 1-2) kept the third set closer and trailed 13-12, but NU scored 13 of the final 16 points of the match.
Cook said NU’s performance was one of its best at Rutgers, which moved all of its matches this year to the same arena used by its basketball teams. A crowd of 1,226 was the largest home attendance this season for the Scarlet Knights.
“This is one of our best, if not best, efforts here at Rutgers,” Cook said. “Sometimes we come in here and don’t play very well…This is a good effort, and they had a nice crowd here today. I just think our players feed off of big crowds and when there’s nobody here.”
With its serving game setting the tone, the Huskers’ offense was sharp as they hit .405 for the match. Sophomore opposite Whitney Lauenstein led the way with 11 kills and a .391 hitting percentage. Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik added nine kills on 16 errorless swings (.562). Sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Krause was also error-free as she tallied five kills at a .455 clip.
The middles got in on the action with six kills each. Senior Kaitlyn Hord hit .750 with three blocks. Allick notched two aces and a block.
Rutgers’s offense struggled the whole night and tried to attack NU’s setters in the left-back position. Orr recorded 17 assists with nine digs. Junior Anni Evans had 11 assists and four digs. Rodriguez stayed busy on out-of-system plays with six assists and nine digs.
The Scarlet Knights finished with just 17 kills and a -.012 hitting percentage. Alissa Kinkela led the way with eight kills and was the only RU player to hit above zero. Taylor Humphrey finished with four kills but didn’t terminate a ball after the first set.
The Huskers are back in action on Sunday with a noon first serve against Maryland (9-6, 0-3).
“I’m going to challenge our captains to make sure our team is dialed in,” Cook said. “We experienced this at Kentucky – East Coast time, a little earlier than we’re used to, and Sunday. We know how to do it. We just have to make sure we can prepare to play.”