Photo by Allyssa Hynes/Nebraska Communications

Huskers Impose Will In Five Against Penn State

By Brian Rosenthal

What better way for consecutive home sellout No. 250 to watch the Nebraska volleyball team than in a five-set match with rival Penn State?

How about in a victory, too?

Five-gamers had been rough on the Huskers in recent weeks, including their last meeting with Penn State, when the Nittany Lions eased through the fifth set, 15-9.

This time, No. 8 Nebraska ended the match on an 11-3 run to finish off No. 7 Penn State 25-27, 25-19, 21-25, 25-18, 15-8 before 8,434 fans at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday night.

“Tonight,” Nebraska coach John Cook said of game five, “we imposed our will on them and played great volleyball.”

Nebraska (17-6, 8-5) had lost four of its last five matches, with all four losses coming to teams in the top seven of this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll. Two of the losses came in five games, including the last meeting at Penn State.

“I just think that’s something our team really needed,” sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “We’ve been working really hard in practice all week, and obviously the Big Ten is never easy. But we’ve been letting a few points slip through our fingers here and there at crucial moments, so it was nice to really see our team fight back tonight. It kind of shows us what we’re capable of.”

Nebraska outlasted Penn State (18-5, 9-4) in a season-long 2 hours, 55 minutes, besting the previous match against the Nittany Lions by 2 minutes.

“Our team was at a breaking point, I guess you could say,” Stivrins said. “We knew we had nothing to lose going into this game, so we said, ‘You know what? Forget it. We’re just going to play Nebraska volleyball.’ ”

Sophomore outsider Lexi Sun, hitting a negative percentage through three games, had six kills on nine swings in the fifth set, as the Huskers dominated, much to the delight of the Big Red faithful.

“The crowd was getting into it, we were getting into it, Lauren went on a nice serving run there, got an ace,” Sun said. “We were all just working together and everyone was contributing. It was fun out there.”

Senior hitter Mikaela Foecke played so well that Cook wondered if he was seeing the return of the defensive floor general of the previous four seasons, Annika Albrecht. In addition to 15 kills, Foecke had a career-high 29 digs.

“I told Foecke, ‘I take back every un-athletic comment I made about you. You were lights out tonight,” Stivrins said.

Foecke also recorded six of Nebraska’s 20 blocks, its most in a match since 2006. The Huskers, who entered the match holding Big Ten opponents to .136 hitting, the best such mark in the league, held Penn State to a season-low .114 hitting percentage.

“My only frustration tonight was we couldn’t stress their passers,” Cook said. “They passed great. You saw a defensive clinic by us tonight, because they were in system way too much for what we’re used to. We just couldn’t stress their passers. We were trying everything.”

Nebraska may have had a less stressful night had it been able to close out the first game. Instead, Penn State called time out and rallied from a 24-21 deficit to win 27-25. But Nebraska won game two by collecting six blocks and holding Penn State to .055 hitting.

The Nittany Lions won the third set, holding the Huskers to .032 hitting, but Nebraska again fought back, bolting to an 8-3 lead en route to a win in the fourth set.

“We’re developing a resiliency muscle,” Cook said. “These guys have been working really hard, and they’ve had a lot of reasons to be discouraged, but we’ve been really sticking with it, and it really paid off tonight.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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