Top-ranked Huskers rally from two-set deficit, top Michigan State in five to stay unbeaten

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State’s Jenison Field House is where Magic Johnson first became famous, and for the first two sets Saturday, there was plenty of magic left in the building for the Spartan volleyball team.

But if there’s a secret to reversing the spell cast by MSU’s home court, Nebraska seems to know it. Because for the third time in six years, the Huskers pulled a win from their sleeves by the slimmest of margins.

No. 1 Nebraska climbed out of a two-set hole to remain undefeated with a 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-14, 16-14 win over No. 20 Michigan State before 4,175 fans. NU picked up its third five-set win in East Lansing since 2011.

The Huskers (11-0, 2-0 Big Ten) extended their winning streak to 27 matches despite Michigan State (12-2, 1-1) hitting .386 over the first two sets with six aces. The Spartans led 2-0 in sets despite NU’s .373 attack percentage before the intermission.

“Michigan State came out on fire. We hit .481 and lost (the first set),” NU coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview. “We were hitting .370 and almost lost this thing in three.”

With the Spartans winning the serve-and-pass battle, Michigan State was able to get the ball to one of the tallest set of attackers in the country. Chloe Reinig, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter, led MSU with 16 kills, while 6-6 Brooke Kranda added 14 and 6-4 Alyssa Garvelink had 11.

Autumn Bailey got into the act, too, with three aces in the first two sets and 13 kills on the night.

But the momentum was fleeting for Michigan State after the Huskers rallied from a 13-8 deficit in the third set with a 7-2 run. One of Mikaela Foecke’s match-high 17 kills tied the set 16-16. The Huskers wouldn’t trail again, ending the set with two kills from Kadie Rolfzen, who had 16 kills on the night.

In a telephone interview with The World-Herald, Foecke said the third-set turnaround also brought a change in attitude. Through the first two sets and much of the third, Nebraska was lethargic. The Huskers found their groove after winning the set, and the Spartans wouldn’t record another ace over the final three sets.

“Prior to that it was kind of a relief to get a point,” Foecke said. “When that changed, we thought we would get the next one and the next one. It wasn’t do or die. We put the pressure on them.”

The pressure got to Michigan State in the fourth set, where the Spartans had 12 errors against nine kills. After coming off the bench midway through the third set, sophomore Olivia Boender had three kills in the fourth, and Nebraska cruised behind a late 6-0 run.

“(Assistant coach) Dani (Busboom Kelly) was yelling at me that we’ve got to get Boender in for energy,” Cook said. “She is an Energizer Bunny. That might have been another turning point right there when Olivia came in and she got a couple really nice kills.”

In the fifth set, Boender, Foecke and Kadie Rolfzen each had a kill to give Nebraska a 3-2 lead before the Spartans responded with four straight points and led 8-6 at the changeover. Michigan State maintained a two-point edge until Kadie Rolfzen and Boender scored out of system on back-to-back rallies to tie it 12-12.

Reinig’s final kill of the night gave Michigan State a match point up 14-13, but Nebraska stayed alive when Boender, from Waverly, Nebraska, ended a long rally with her eighth kill of the match.

“Liv came off the bench and did just so good,” Foecke said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better performance from her.”

Tied at 14, Michigan State went back to Reinig, but the senior hit it out of bounds to give the Huskers match point. The winning streak was saved on the next rally when Amber Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter combined to block Bailey and clinch the victory.

It was the 13th block of the match for Nebraska and the sixth each for Amber Rolfzen and Hunter. Briana Holman also had six blocks.

Hunter came away with a double-double, adding 10 digs to her 53 assists. Holman and Amber Rolfzen combined for 15 kills out of the middle blocker position, and Justine Wong-Orantes (14 digs) and Annika Albrecht (13) helped the Huskers outdig the Spartans 68-53.

It was Nebraska’s sixth straight win over Michigan State going back to 2013.

“That’s why they’re champs,” Cook said. “They’ve got the grit, or whatever you want to call it. The toughness. They work hard. They expect to win.”

Nebraska (11-0, 2-0)………………22 23 25 25 16

At Michigan St. (12-2, 1-1)………25 25 20 14 14

NU (kills-aces-blocks): Foecke 17-1-2, Hunter 2-2-6, A. Rolfzen 8-0-6, K. Rolfzen 16-1-3, Holman 7-0-1, Albrecht 3-2-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0, Townsend 0-0-0, Malloy 0-0-0, Maloney 0-0-0, Boender 8-0-0. Totals 68-7-13.

MSU: Bailey 13-3-1, Fitterer 9-0-3, Reinig 16-0-5, Minarick 1-0-1, Kranda 14-2-3, Garvelink 11-0-4, Washegesic 0-0-0, Brashear 0-0-0, Tompkins 0-0-0, Monson 0-1-0, Toliver 1-0-0. Totals 65-6-10.

Set assists: NU 62 (Hunter 53, Wong-Orantes 5, K. Rolfzen 2, Maloney 2), MSU 64 (Minarick 52, Monson 5, Bailey 3, Fitterer 1, Reining 1, Garvelink 1, Brashear 1). A: 4,175.