Husker defense holds, NU runs winning streak to 10 with sweep of Rutgers

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — The to-do list for No. 1 Nebraska in Saturday night’s match against the Big Ten’s last-place team included a bigger-picture items.

Maintain defensive focus. Build some depth. Keep tinkering to improve the middle attack.

The Huskers checked each box in a 25-10, 25-14, 25-12 win at Rutgers in which NU held its opponent to a negative attacking mark for the first time this season and got big nights from a pair of starters who had struggled in Friday’s win at No. 11 Penn State.

“We came out focused and had good energy,” coach John Cook said on his postgame radio show. “Everybody got to play. Briana (Holman) and Kadie (Rolfzen) rebounded from last night. And you can see we were very low-error.”

Nebraska (22-1, 13-1 Big Ten) hit .395, led by Holman’s 12 kills. The junior middle blocker from DeSoto, Texas, hit .688 on 16 attacks and added three blocks. Kadie Rolfzen had 10 kills without an error in her 23 swings to go with four blocks in front of 617 at College Avenue Gym.

It was a solid recovery by both players from Friday’s match, when Holman and Rolfzen combined for 12 errors and hit .107.

Rutgers (4-23, 0-14), which played without leading attacker Meme Fletcher, never held a lead in what would become its 22nd consecutive loss. The Scarlet Knights had 21 errors against 19 kills for a minus-.024 hitting mark. Senior Lauren Cloyd’s five kills were a team high, and the Scarlet Knights became the seventh straight opponent NU held below .200 hitting.

Much of that could be credited to the Huskers’ block. NU had 11 stuffs with eight coming from senior Amber Rolfzen, who made a strong case for the Big Ten’s defensive player of the week honor with 17 total blocks this weekend.

Setter Kelly Hunter added three blocks and had 33 assists in a match where she had more of an opportunity to spread the offense after NU’s left-side hitters carried most of the load against Penn State.

“She told me she was going to try to really run middle,” Cook said. “We still misconnected on a few. We’ve got to continue to get better at that, but you can see it can be a really big weapon for us. Those guys put up good numbers tonight.

“We’ve got to keep making that a strength. Kelly’s got to have confidence to set it. I feel like she could even set it more than she does if she would take a little more risks. We’ll keep working on that.”

The lopsided win gave Cook a chance to cycle in some reserves for a rare appearance in conference play. Redshirt freshman Tiani Reeves put away her first collegiate kill late in the second set to give the Huskers a 23-13 lead. Sophomore Olivia Boender appeared in her ninth match of the year and had three kills on nine swings in Game 3.

After playing 10 ranked opponents in its first 13 conference matches, Saturday marked the start of a week that could be somewhat of a breather Nebraska, which has won 10 straight matches and 38 of its last 39.

Wednesday night, the Huskers host unranked Iowa, which was swept Saturday at Penn State to end the Nittany Lions’ four-match skid. Then, NU travels to 11th-place Indiana next Saturday for a rematch of the Huskers’ three-set win in Lincoln on Oct. 7.

It marks the start of three straight weekends to end the regular season where the Huskers play a Wednesday-Saturday schedule as they try to maintain a one-game lead over Wisconsin at the top of the Big Ten standings.

“It’s more of a routine,” Cook said. “We can really prepare, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Nebraska (22-1, 13-1)…….25 25 25

At Rutgers (4-23, 0-14)…..10 14 12

NU (kills-aces-blocks): Holman 12-0-3, K. Rolfzen 10-1-4, Foecke 5-1-0, A. Rolfzen 4-0-8, Hunter 3-0-3, Malloy 3-0-0, Boender 3-0-0, Reeves 1-0-0, Townsend 0-2-0, Albrecht 0-1-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0.

R: Cloyd 5-0-3, Stackhouse 3-0-1, Matthews 3-0-3, Enners 2-0-0, Duffin 2-0-0, Trimble 2-0-1, Sharkey 1-0-0, Anderson 1-0-0, Holze 0-1-0.

Set assists: NU 37 (Hunter 33, K. Rolfzen 1, A. Rolfzen 1, Wong-Orantes 1, Townsend 1). R 19 (Sharkey 9, Holze 9, Hill 1).

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