LINCOLN — It will go down as Nebraska’s first sweep win in five Big Ten home matches this year.
But the breezy start and dominant finish couldn’t obscure the seams No. 5 Nebraska displayed in the middle of its 25-13, 30-28, 25-11 win over Indiana on Wednesday.
The Huskers had to battle to earn their 10th straight sweep of the Hoosiers after watching a 17-9 lead slip away in Game 2 before Jazz Sweet and Lexi Sun, who had 11 kills apiece, scored on key swings to help NU take a 2-0 lead in sets.
Sweet, who hit .435 with one error on 23 swings, said having to grind out the second set came with a silver lining. Nebraska (15-2, 6-1) still had something to show for its effort after a stretch of poor play, unlike last weekend’s loss to Minnesota when the conference leaders humbled NU after the Huskers stumbled into a similar run of miscues.
“It definitely bolstered what we’re about to go into in this little stretch right here in this next week and a half,” said Sweet, referring to the team’s four-match road trip. “It was definitely good to see us push through and really fight for something right there. So I really enjoyed that. We definitely carried that into Set 3.”
Sweet in particular.
The sophomore opposite hitter had three kills and teamed with freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach for two blocks on the first five rallies of the third set. Nebraska eventually ran away to leads of 10-1 and 20-7, hitting .593 in Game 3 to pull its attack percentage from .182 to .301 at night’s end.
Sweet had seven kills on 11 error-free attacks in the third set while Mikaela Foecke added five of her 10 kills in the finale.
“I thought we got better tonight,” coach John Cook said. “We dominated them two games, which was great. We worked through some things.
“Winning that second game was big for us in a lot of ways because we had chances to lose it. We were feeling a lot of pressure because we let a big lead get away. That was really good experience, and we made some great plays to win that game.”
Cook said each of the Huskers who had some struggles in the second set managed to work her way through them, providing an opportunity for growth for a young team he said is “still a work in progress.”
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames, whose connections with her pin hitters began to drift in the latter part of Game 2, bounced back for her 11th double-double in 17 matches with 31 assists and 10 digs.
“We were ahead there for a minute and we kind of made some dumb errors at the end to let them back in it,” Hames said. “When we came out into Game 3, new game, new mindset, and just go out there and play Nebraska volleyball.”
After trailing 17-9, Indiana won 11 of the next 14 points to tie it 20-20 when Sun sent a shot long. Nebraska went up 24-23 on a Foecke kill, but Nebraska needed four set points while saving two of the Hoosiers’ chances to win the set.
Sun tied it 26-26 on her best swing of the night, a sharp cross hit out of system, and after getting blocked three rallies later, the sophomore saved another Indiana set point with a kill to tie it 28-28.
That rotated Sweet back into the match, and following an Indiana hitting error, Sweet put down a kill in transition to give Nebraska the win in its longest set of the year.
“With Jazz, it’s being in a rhythm with Nicklin,” Cook said.
“Her and Nicklin are continuing to build that trust and that relationship that Jazz knows where the ball is going to be. I thought Nicklin set her better as the night went on.”
While Nebraska’s offense continues to find its way, the Huskers’ defense continued to show why it’s among the nation’s best. NU put up 11 blocks, the 10th straight match with at least nine, and held the Hoosiers to .094 hitting. Schwarzenbach, the Big Ten’s blocks leader, took part in nine stuffs. Sweet added five and Sun had four.
Nebraska shackled the Hoosiers’ leading hitters. Freshman outside hitter Breana Edwards, who had 22 kills last weekend in IU’s five-set loss to No. 13 Michigan, had three kills and seven errors. Middle blocker Deyshia Lofton, who came into the match hitting .375, was held to a season-low .136.
Libero Kenzie Maloney served four of the Huskers’ seven aces with a match-best 11 digs.
“I think our goal for today was attack,” Hames said. “We were attacking from the service line, attacking by hitting, attacking at everything we were doing. Our mindset was to attack our serve and get them out of system.”
Nebraska is about to find out how portable that attacking mindset can be with four straight matches on the road — including three against top-10 teams.
Saturday, the Huskers play at No. 9 Penn State, which, while in what counts as a rebuilding year for the Nittany Lions, is third at 5-2 in the league after a four-set win at No. 17 Purdue on Wednesday night.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Cook said. “We had to do this last year, same thing, playing all these top-10 teams. But this is what this conference is about. We have to raise our level to compete with these teams. Really, that’s our only choice.”
Indiana (11-7, 2-5)…………..13 28 11
At Nebraska (15-2, 6-1)……..25 30 25
IU (kills-aces-blocks): Huybers 7-1-3, Lofton 7-0-2, Malloy 6-0-1, Asdell 5-0-1, Johnson 4-0-3, Edwards 3-0-0, Westenhofer 0-1-0. Totals 32-2-10.
NU: Sweet 11-0-5, Sun 11-2-4, Foecke 10-0-0, Schwarzenbach 3-0-9, Stivrins 2-0-1, Hames 1-1-1, Maloney 0-4-0. Totals 38-7-21.
Set assists: I 30 (Brisack 16, Westenhofer 14), NU 38 (Hames 31, Maloney 4, Schwarzenbach 2, Foecke 1).