LINCOLN — When Nebraska’s middle blockers have found themselves one on one against a defender of late, it seems more and more like it means good things for the Huskers.
So it was no surprise that NU’s scheme Wednesday night against Iowa involved a heavy dose of Briana Holman and Amber Rolfzen, who obliged with 21 combined kills in the Huskers’ 25-14, 25-18, 26-24 win.
No. 1 Nebraska (23-1, 14-1) got its 11th straight victory in front of 8,262 at the Devaney Center by taking advantage of Holman and Rolfzen’s play above the net. Both players got plenty of chances at swings running behind setter Kelly Hunter to receive a type of set NU refers to as a “dog” that usually leaves them isolated against a single defender.
“Even if you watch it against us, it’s kind of hard to stop dogs,” said Rolfzen, who had nine kills on 14 error-free swings. “Any set behind for a middle is hard to stop. You need a good connection with your setter, and that just keeps improving and improving.”
Holman, who led the Huskers with 12 kills and hit .409, put away several of her chances behind Hunter, but also did much of her damage finishing off free balls and overdigs in a match between two teams that scrapped to keep the ball off the floor.
“I feel like that’s what the Big Ten is all about,” Holman said. “Every night you have to come out and compete.”
The win was Nebraska’s 14th straight sweep of Iowa (18-9, 8-7), but the Hawkeyes showed in Game 3 they wouldn’t go quietly in a match that would have produced a résumé boost for their NCAA tournament hopes.
The Hawkeyes jumped to an 11-7 lead in the third set and rallied to tie it at 22-22 after Nebraska had gone in front with a 5-0 run.
“Iowa competed really hard tonight,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “They’re a good team. That’s why they’re in the middle of the pack of the Big Ten right now. We’re going to have our hands full next week when we go there.”
After Holman scored in transition to put NU up 23-22, Reghan Coyle, a Council Bluffs Lewis Central graduate, answered with a kill to tie it 23-23, and the Hawkeyes fought off NU’s first match point two rallies later with the final kill of the night from freshman Meghan Buzzerio, who led Iowa with 10 kills.
But Buzzerio served into the net to put the Huskers up 25-24, and on the next rally NU’s Andie Malloy found the floor with a kill to the deep corner.
“I felt like we did enough to get it done tonight,” Cook said, “but we didn’t play great volleyball.”
Added Rolfzen: “Everything was pretty well. It wasn’t great the entire time, but everything we did was pretty well.”
What the Huskers did do well was mostly stifle a Hawkeye team that entered the match ranking in the top 20 nationally in hitting percentage. Nebraska out-blocked Iowa 10-5 and held the Hawkeyes to .108 attacking, the eighth straight match NU has held its opponent to .179 or lower.
Kadie Rolfzen led the Huskers with 14 digs and tied her sister for a team high with five blocks.
Nebraska hit .284, mostly buoyed by its middles, who combined to hit .500. That lifted up some lukewarm numbers for outside hitters Malloy, Kadie Rolfzen and Mikaela Foecke, who were the victims of Iowa’s stingy floor defense led by libero Annika Olsen’s match-high 19 digs.
It left Cook with a checklist of areas in which he’d like to see the Huskers improve during a Nov. 19 rematch in Iowa City and Saturday’s match at Indiana, another NCAA tournament hopeful that would likely seal a bid with a win over the nation’s top-ranked team.
“They’re in NCAA mode right now,” Cook said. “They’re in elimination games for them. But hopefully our team is on a mission to win the Big Ten, so there should be good battles. We’re going to have to learn how to bring it every night.”
Iowa (18-9, 8-7)………………….14 18 24
At Nebraska (23-1, 14-1)………25 25 26
UI (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Buzzerio 10-0-2, Brobst 8-0-1, Coyle 5-0-1, Janota 4-0-3, Mariani 3-0-2, Keala 2-1-1
NU: Holman 12-0-4, A. Rolfzen 9-0-5, Foecke 8-0-2, K. Rolfzen 8-0-5, Hunter 6-0-2, Malloy 6-0-1, Wong-Orantes 0-2-0
Set Assists: I 30 (Keala 28, Buzzerio 1, Olsen 1), N, 42 (Hunter 34, A. Rolfzen 2, K. Rolfzen 1, Albrecht 2, Wong-Orantes 1, Maloney 2). Att: 8,262