LINCOLN — Kelly Hunter was tired of making decisions.
An early wrap to No. 8 Nebraska’s 25-21, 25-18, 25-13 sweep of No. 3 Minnesota left enough time for a Hunter family Friday night dinner, but after dishing out 43 assists and helping four of her teammates reach double-digit kills, the Huskers’ senior setter was ready to delegate this one to her mom.
You decide, Hunter said into her cellphone. I’ll meet you wherever you want.
Could you blame trying to give the choice to the Papillion-La Vista South alum? For the previous hour and a half at the Devaney Center, Hunter rarely made the wrong call in helping the Huskers slice and dice a high-ranked opponent for the second Friday in a row.
Nebraska (10-3, 3-0 Big Ten) got 11 kills apiece from Briana Holman, Annika Albrecht and Lauren Stivrins. Mikaela Foecke added 10 kills, and Jazz Sweet had eight, giving Hunter a bevy of potent targets.
“We passed amazing, so that makes my job a lot easier,” Hunter said. “Obviously a balanced attack is what you want just to throw the other team off, so they don’t know where it’s going to a certain player every time so they can get in a groove.”
Hunter, who added 11 digs for a double-double, put Nebraska’s middle blockers in great positions all night. Holman and Stivrins combined to hit .514 on 37 swings as NU topped the .300 mark for the fourth straight match, hitting .301.
“She ran a great game plan, which she always does,” Nebraska coach John Cook said of Hunter, “and she made really good adjustments as the match went on.”
Minnesota (12-2, 1-2) is often one of the top transition teams in the country — digging opposing attacks and turning them into kills — but the Huskers owned more of the transition rallies Friday. The middles were often Hunter’s targets in transition, and they ended long rallies with momentum-building kills on the slide play running behind Hunter and out to the pin.
“I think in transition and in those scramble plays people are everywhere, and those are the best times to score,” Holman said.
Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said the Huskers “were just really clean.”
“They executed well,” he said, “and they were consistently good the whole match.”
Nebraska piled up 19 more kills Friday (52-33) and held the Gophers to a .183 attack percentage. Minnesota sophomore outside hitter Alexis Hart led all players with 13 kills, but NU quieted the Big Ten’s leading attacker, freshman Stephanie Samedy, holding the opposite hitter to eight kills on .200 hitting.
“We’ve been doing a lot of different things with blocking,” Holman said. “We just wanted to get in their head and frustrate them. It seemed like every time they hit, there was four hands up.”
Nebraska’s defense and transition game kept Minnesota from building many long runs of points, and helped NU escape the Gophers’ best stretch of the night by holding off a comeback in Game 1.
With Nebraska leading 18-12, a Hart kill started a run of five straight Minnesota points to cut the Huskers’ lead to one. The Gophers again pulled within one at 22-21 on an ace by middle blocker Molly Lohman.
But on the next rally, Hunter went to Sweet in transition, and the Huskers’ freshman opposite hitter scored her fourth kill of the set to start a 3-0 Nebraska run to end Game 1.
Cook said it was “a really important night” for Sweet. “We felt like we could get her the ball, but it didn’t seem like she was up there (in the front row) that much because we were scoring a lot of points when Kelly was up there.”
After Game 1, there was little suspense. The Huskers hit .342 over the final two sets, holding leads of 19-12 in Game 2 and 20-11 in the finale, making it a feel-good night for the crowd of 8,344 who loudly cheered former Husker All-American Jordan Larson, whose jersey was retired during the intermission.
“I’m just so happy to be a Husker and represent the University of Nebraska the rest of my life,” Larson told the crowd after receiving a bouquet of red and white flowers from NU Interim Athletic Director Dave Rimington.
Cook said after the match that Nebraska’s next transition challenge will be to regroup for Saturday’s 7 p.m. match against No. 7 Wisconsin (11-1, 2-1), which hit .402 in a sweep at Iowa Friday night behind 12 kills from 6-foot-8 freshman Dana Rettke.
Saturday’s match, the first of two meetings between Nebraska and Wisconsin over the next 11 days, will be pivotal in the race for the Big Ten title. But Hunter believes one of the team’s biggest strengths at the moment is treating every point like match point. If the Huskers weren’t competing every rally, she said, her coach would have plenty to say about it.
Judging by Cook’s relative silence from the bench on Friday, Hunter is pretty sure he was satisfied.
“I think he’s really proud of us and happy with the way … it’s not like we’re playing amazing, we’re just playing point by point and having a really quick mind and a really good mentality about it,” Hunter said. “That’s not something you can really coach, so I think he’s really proud of us for that.”
Minnesota (12-2, 1-2 Big Ten) …… 21 18 13
At Nebraska (10-3, 3-0) ……………. 25 25 25
M (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Hart 13-0-1, Samedy 8-0-2, Pittman 7-0-3, Martin 3-0-1, Lohman 2-1-4, Seliger-Swenson 0-0-2
NU: Holman 11-0-2, Albrecht 11-1-1, Stivrins 11-0-5, Foecke 10-1-1, Sweet 8-0-2, Hunter 1-0-2, Townsend 0-1-0, Maloney 0-1-0, Densberger 0-1-0
Set Assists: M 33 (Seliger-Swenson 26, Nielsen 3, Rosado 2, Lohman 1, Goehner 1), NU 47 (Hunter 43, Maloney 2, Holman 1, Densberger 1). Att: 8344
Wisconsin at Nebraska
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Devaney Center, Lincoln
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM