No. 1 Huskers fall to No. 19 Ohio State in four sets, ending 28-match winning streak

No. 1 Huskers fall to No. 19 Ohio State in four sets, ending 28-match winning streak
Photo Courtesy: World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — Opposing coaches usually have little reason to navigate the Devaney Center hallways to find the first-level room where press conferences are held after volleyball matches.

But Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston has now become a regular in the media room when the Buckeyes visit Lincoln. And the energetic coach again wore a toothy smile as his team left Lincoln with another statement victory.

The Buckeyes didn’t sneak out of the Devaney Center with a win, though — they walked through No. 1 Nebraska’s front door and grabbed it, emphatically snapping the Huskers’ 28-match winning steak with a 17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-13 victory.

Despite playing without top outside hitter Audra Appold for the second straight match, Ohio State found kills from plenty of other sources to beat Nebraska for the third straight time and the fourth time in five matches. Junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer led everyone with 16 kills, and sophomore setter Taylor Hughes delivered a virtuoso performance with 11 kills and 41 assists.

“Heavy is the crown. It’s been a long time since they lost, and we tried to use that to our advantage,” Carlston said.

The architect of the Buckeyes’ latest humbling was Hughes, who frustrated Nebraska (12-1, 3-1 Big Ten) all night. Hughes hit .500 for the match and had six kills in the pivotal second set as Ohio State (12-4, 2-2) evened the match after NU took the opener.

“We wanted them to just feel like there’s this gnat that they can’t get off,” Carlston said. “She’s such a competitor and so offensive. I thought the thing I loved most was she was putting them everywhere in that second set. I think that really changed and frustrated what they wanted to do.”

After the intermission, Nebraska never could regain the momentum. The Huskers put together just one string of more than two straight points after taking an 8-4 lead in the second, and suffered their poorest attacking night of the year with a .175 hitting percentage.

Senior opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen had 13 kills on .367 hitting, but the rest of the Huskers combined to hit .121.

It left Nebraska coach John Cook plainly exasperated. Cook said he thought the Huskers would find success attacking on the right side with Rolfzen and middle blockers Briana Holman and Amber Rolfzen. But even when Nebraska passed well enough to give setter Kelly Hunter that option — which was never a guarantee Saturday — the Buckeyes’ floor defense gobbled up most of those swings.

Nebraska’s middle blocker duo combine to hit .158 against the Buckeyes, and its outside hitters didn’t fare much better. None of the four outsides Cook cycled throughout the match hit better than .174.

“Ohio State’s ‘why’ was way stronger than ours tonight,” Cook said. “They wanted this match way more than we did, for whatever reason. I don’t know why we didn’t fight harder.”

Ohio State hit .536 in the third set to take a 2-1 lead, and finished the match by sending the Huskers into total systemic failure in the fourth set. The Buckeyes raced to leads of 10-4, 15-8 and 20-9 as Nebraska sent shots everywhere but to the floor.

With 11 Nebraska attack errors in the fourth set, Ohio State needed only 11 kills to close out the match.

The Buckeyes finished with a 62-53 advantage in digs, and All-America middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe had nine blocks to go along with 12 kills.

“They have a lot of heart, and they’re never going to give up on a play,” Hunter said. “They’re making those defensive plays. They’re laying out and they’re just making sure we have no chance to put a ball down.”

Ohio State (12-4, 2-2)……….17 25 25 25

At Nebraska (12-1, 3-1)…….25 21 21 13

OSU (kills-aces-blocks): Smeathers 7-0-2, Schirmer 16-2-3, Hughes 11-0-3, Wenz 4-0-1, Sandbothe 12-2-9, Franklin 0-0-0, Randall 0-0-0, Leon 0-0-0, Bailey 5-0-2, Fesl 0-0-0, Halm 0-0-0. Totals 55-4-11.

NU: Foecke 8-0-3, Hunter 3-0-5, A. Rolfzen 8-0-7, K. Rolfzen 13-0-1, Holman 7-0-4, Albrecht 1-2-0, Wong-Orantes 0-0-0, Townsend 0-1-0, Malloy 4-0-3, Maloney 0-0-0, Boender 1-0-0. Totals 45-3-12.

Set assists: OSU 54 (Hughes 41, Leon 5, Schirmer 4, Halm 2, Sandbothe 1, Fesl 1), NU 42 (Hunter 36, Albrecht 2, Wong-Orantes 2, K. Rolfzen 1, Holman 1). A: 8,368.