MINNEAPOLIS — Adanna Rollins couldn’t help but laugh. The match was all but decided when it was finally revealed she was fallible.
The Gophers paid no price for the first error of the night from their star freshman outside hitter, but Rollins cost Nebraska plenty with a career-high 20 kills in No. 3 Minnesota’s 19-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 win before a sellout crowd of 5,467 at the Maturi Sports Pavilion.
Rollins finished her night with that lone error on 47 swings as she continued to build her case for Big Ten freshman of the year against the Huskers. She notched her previous career best, 17 kills, in the Gophers’ 3-1 win in Lincoln two weeks ago.
Nebraska (15-5, 6-4) still had moments to seize what would have been its biggest win of the season. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke had 17 kills, while sophomore Jazz Sweet shook off some early struggles to finish with 13 kills. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins tied her career high with 12 kills against one error on 26 swings.
In his postmatch radio interview, NU coach John Cook alluded to a concern that Friday’s five-set loss to No. 9 Wisconsin would follow the Huskers to Minneapolis. Instead, Nebraska grabbed control of the opener with a late 5-1 run to hand the Gophers their first set loss at home this season.
“I sensed we had a lot of reasons not to compete hard, and we competed hard tonight,” Cook said. “We played better tonight than we did (Friday) night. I thought we followed the game plan pretty well. We did a lot of good things tonight, but we’ve got to get better at some key moments. That’s what we’re missing. We’re making errors at key moments.”
The match swung on several of those miscues coming late in the second and third sets. Nebraska led 23-22 in Game 2 after a Sweet kill, but after Minnesota’s Lexi Hart tied it with a kill on the next rally, the Gophers blocked NU’s Lexi Sun to get a set point, and Sweet sent her next swing wide to let Minnesota tie the match 1-1.
With Game 3 tied 21-21, another Sun hitting error put Minnesota up for good, and Rollins followed with a kill on the next rally to let the Gophers side out to the win.
It was part of a recurring theme in which Minnesota patiently kept key rallies alive, frustrating Husker hitters with digs, and eventually winning them by either getting kills from Rollins, Hart or opposite hitter Stephanie Samedy, or by letting Nebraska be its own worst enemy. After recording three blocks in the first set, NU picked up only one more for the rest of the match.
“We had plenty of opportunities to make them pay and didn’t,” Cook said. “That’s what’s frustrating. We let them play their style of volleyball as opposed to us playing our style of volleyball.”
Sun’s struggles were notable. The Texas transfer had nine hitting errors, one more than her eight kills, and also committed four service errors. Cook said he considered replacing her with freshman Capri Davis, but the Huskers were short on back-row substitutes with freshman Megan Miller already in the match.
“There’s another player that’s not used to playing two top-10 teams back to back on the road,” Cook said. “There’s one ranked team in the Big 12 right now. That was her experience last year. She’s got to learn the level she’s got to compete at every point. I think this is a great learning opportunity.”
Nebraska’s recent run through the Big Ten meat grinder, facing five top-10 teams in its past seven matches, including three straight on the road, left the Huskers with three straight losses in the same season for the first time since 1997.
But it also started to reveal to Cook some character. Nebraska adjusted its starting rotation on Saturday to start Stivrins in the front row, and her 12 kills matched her career best set against Ohio State last year. Libero Kenzie Maloney tied her career high with 25 digs, and setter Nicklin Hames’ 54 assists were two shy of her career high.
Who will accept close losses that could’ve been wins with some tighter execution? Who will shake off mistakes instead of hanging their heads, and who will infuse the group with some much-needed intensity? If Friday’s loss to Wisconsin magnified those question marks, a narrow loss to the probable Big Ten champions at least outlined some answers for the coach.
“The most exciting thing I’m feeling about tonight is we’re starting to see some fire from our players that we’re not happy with the results,” he said.
“We’ve still got all these new parts we’re trying to put together so we can be a smooth team and win close games. We’ve got to keep building now and get better. We’ve got five more weeks now to grind and try to get into the NCAA tournament.”
Nebraska (15-5, 6-4)……………….25 23 23 18
At Minnesota (16-2, 10-0)………..19 25 25 25
NU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Foecke 17-2-1, Sweet 13-0-0, Stivrins 12-0-1, Sun 8-1-3, Schwarzenbach 8-0-2, Hames 4-1-0, Miller 0-1-0, Densberger 0-1-0
UM: Rollins 20-0-2, Samedy 13-0-3, Hart 9-0-2, Pittman 9-1-3, Morgan 4-0-5, Seliger-Swenson 1-2-1, Barnes 0-2-0, McGraw 0-1-0
Set Assists: N 59 (Hames 54, Maloney 2, Sweet 1, Sun 1, Miller 1), M 54 (Seliger-Swenson 47, McGraw 2, Samedy 2, Rollins 1, Barnes 1, Nielsen 1). Attendance: 5,467