Volleyball falls to No. 12 Nebraska

By Andrew Neville

Northwestern volleyball (5-6, 0-1 B1G) fought exceptionally hard but ultimately fell in its conference opener to No. 12 Nebraska (7-3, 1-0 B1G) three sets to one before a packed Welsh-Ryan Arena Tuesday night in Evanston.

In the first home game with the entire student body on campus, a large contingent of Wildcat fans made the mile trek down Central Street to watch the ‘Cats attempt to pull off the upset. The team rode some of the crowd’s energy out of the gate, consistently hustling to well-placed Husker kill attempts and not allowing Nebraska to open up a large lead. 

The most electric play of the entire game occurred in the opening set, with Nebraska leading 11-10.  Following a well-placed Nebraska serve, Megan Miller and Ellee Stinson each went diving into the far corner of the court to save the point for the ‘Cats. Following more intense rallies over the net, Alexa Rousseau delicately tapped the ball over the outstretched arms of the Cornhusker defense to tie the set at 11. However, after rotating the next few points, Nebraska took control of the set with five unanswered points on its way to win 25-21.

The Huskers took the momentum from their first set victory into the start of the second set. An early 4-0 scoring run saw them out to a 10-5 lead on a cross-court kill by Madi Kubik, who led Nebraska with a whopping 19 kills. The lead would grow from there to 14-7 before the ‘Cats ultimately settled down a bit thanks to some great attacking from Leilani Dodson. Despite cutting the deficit to 22-21 with a 3-0 run, the ‘Cats couldn’t get over the hump following a Nebraska timeout and fell again 25-21.

Northwestern came out fiercely determined to make a statement in the third set. The Wildcats out hustled the Huskers and used some stellar attacking by Hanna Lesiak and Temi Thomas-Ailara, who had 14 and 10 kills, respectively, to jump out to an early lead. Nebraska kept the set tight, but the ‘Cats finally were able to force a set point at 24-22 after a kill by Dodson. Nebraska got a point to reduce the deficit to one, but Northwestern pulled out the clincher after Husker outside hitter Ally Batenhorst tapped the ball out of bounds. The victory was Northwestern’s first in a set over Nebraska since 2013.

Sadly, the Wildcats’ efforts in the third set took most of the wind out of the sails. Nebraska’s Lexi Sun was a beast on the defensive end for the Huskers early in the fourth set. The ‘Cats couldn’t keep up with the flurry of cross-court kills from Kubik and Kayla Caffey, who led the team with 19 kills, and stout blocks from Sun as Nebraska reeled off seven straight points to take a 14-8 lead that it would not relinquish. The final score of the fourth and decisive set was 25-16.

Northwestern should be encouraged by its effort as the team heads into the meat of its B1G schedule, which continues this Saturday as they visit Illinois (8-3) in Champaign.