Huskers sweep Maryland, remain tied for second in Big Ten

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — In front of an audience that included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Nebraska delivered its quickest decision in Big Ten play, and the opinion was unanimous.

No. 2 Nebraska cleared its docket for a pair of top-five opponents this coming weekend by sweeping Maryland 25-16, 25-13, 25-17 at the XFINITY Center Pavillion on Sunday afternoon. It was the Huskers’ 13th straight road victory and kept Nebraska (16-1, 7-1 Big Ten) tied for second in the conference with Wisconsin heading into two home matches this week against the Badgers and Minnesota.

“I thought the Huskers came in and were very focused and sharp today,” coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview. “They put on a first-contact clinic. I mean, they really passed well today, and this is not an easy gym to pass in.”

Nebraska’s solid passing kept setter Kelly Hunter in system most of the day, leading to a .429 hitting percentage — the Huskers’ best mark in Big Ten play this season.

Senior opposite hitter Kadie Rolfzen had a team-high nine kills without an error on 16 attempts while junior middle blocker Briana Holman added eight kills and five blocks.

Middle blocker Amber Rolfzen led NU with seven blocks and added six kills, a reflection, Cook said, of the Huskers’ aim to involve the middles in the attack more than in Friday’s win at Ohio State.

“One of our goals was to try to get the ball more to our middles in transition, and we did that tonight,” the coach said. “We misfired on a couple, but certainly, the intent was there. I thought that was smoother.”

Nebraska put away each of the first two sets with little drama, thanks in part to big serving runs from Annika Albrecht. The junior from North Aurora, Illinois, fired an ace in the middle of a 5-0 run that gave the Huskers a 21-14 lead in the opener. She also was at the service line for a 6-0 run early in Game 2, in which she added a kill from the back row.

Albrecht’s 10 digs also were a team high.

“She was really good today,” Cook said. “I was actually thinking about trying to rotate so she would be in the game more. She only came around in those first two games and served twice.

“She also served really well, too. She really made some big runs.”

Freshman outside hitter Gia Milana helped the Terrapins keep Game 3 interesting with five of her match-high 11 kills in the third, but Nebraska began to pull away with a 6-1 run that included a kill and two blocks from Amber Rolfzen to take an 18-12 lead.

The Terrapins would get as close as 19-16 before Nebraska scored five straight points featuring two kills and a block from Holman to finish the sweep.

Nebraska put up six of its 12 team blocks in the third set and held Maryland (8-12, 0-8) to .081 hitting to stay undefeated in eight meetings against the Terrapins.

“It’s very difficult to defend when you’re in system as much as we were tonight,” Cook said. “That’s why I think we sided out at 75 percent tonight, which is a very high number.”

After an Oct. 1 loss to Ohio State, NU has won four in a row and gets its next four matches at the Devaney Center, starting with the biggest weekend of the regular season. The Huskers host No. 1 Wisconsin on Friday, though the Badgers figure to drop in Monday’s poll after losing at home last week to No. 3 Minnesota.

The Gophers were in prime position to grab the top spot ahead of this Sunday’s match in Lincoln, but were upset in five sets Saturday night at Michigan State.

Nebraska (16-1, 7-1)…………25 25 25

At Maryland (8-12, 0-8)……..16 14 17

NU (kills-aces-blocks): K. Rolfzen 9-0-2, Holman 8-0-5, Foecke 6-1-3, A. Rolfzen 6-0-7, Malloy 6-0-0, Hunter 4-1-6, Albrecht 1-1-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0

UM: Milana 11-1-1, Murray 9-0-0, Gaskin 4-0-2, MacGregor 3-0-3, Smith 2-0-0, Twilley 1-0-0.

Set assists: NU 38 (Hunter 33, K. Rolfzen 3, A. Rolfzen 1, Wong-Orantes 1). UM, M 28 (Smith 25, Higgenbothem 2, Wicinski 1).

Attendance: 1,706.