Mueller Powers Huskers to 3-0 Sweep
Lincoln – Tara Mueller had a match-high 14 kills on .583 hitting, leading No. 5 Nebraska to a 3-0 sweep of Virginia Thursday night at the Ameritas Players Challenge.
The junior All-American enjoyed her best match of the year, as her .583 hitting percentage was the third-best night of her career and the first time that she had at least 10 kills without an error. Mueller also went over 500 kills in her three-year career on Thursday and has 506 career kills at Nebraska.
Behind Mueller and a balanced attack, the Huskers (6-1) hit .308 on the night, as Lindsey Licht and Hannah Werth added nine kills apiece to help Nebraska to its sixth consecutive win. All-American Sydney Anderson guided the Huskers to its second straight match above .300 hitting, dishing out 34 assists and adding 12 digs and matching a season best with four blocks.
Nebraska, which has held its last six foes to a combined .077 hitting percentage, totaled 10 blocks on the night, including a season-high six from Jordan Wilberger and four from Anderson, while Kayla Banwarth’s 14 digs paced the Big Red floor defense.
Nebraska shook off some early jitters and pulled away down the stretch in a 25-20 victory. NU hit .275 in the first set, as Werth, Licht, Mueller and Gina Mancuso combined for 14 of the Huskers 17 kills. NU committed four service errors in the set and struggled to get consistency early on, as Virginia took an early 11-8 advantage after a Simone Asque kill. The Huskers quickly regrouped, as a Mancuso kill began a 3-0 run to even the score at 11 and regained the lead at 14-13 on a Mueller kill as Nebraska ended a 6-2 spurt. The Cavaliers stayed close and were tied at 17 before kills from Werth and Mueller sandwiched between a UVA hitting error gave NU a 20-17 lead and forced a timeout. Virginia made one last spurt and was within 21-19 before kills from Mueller and Licht provided the Huskers with the breathing room they needed.
In the second set, Nebraska turned up the pressure, jumping out to a 9-2 lead and never looking back in a 25-11 victory. NU hit .385 as a set behind Mueller, who pounded home five kills in as many swings. NU also totaled five blocks, including three from Wilberger, in holding the Cavaliers to just three kills and -.179 hitting. Anderson ran off the first four points at the service line, as NU won nine of the first 11 rallies with both of Virginia’s points coming on NU service errors. The Huskers got the lead to double figures at 15-4 after two straight Mueller kills and led by as many as 14 in taking a 2-0 lead into the locker room.
Nebraska’s veterans continued to carry the Huskers in the finale, as NU rolled to a 25-16 win to complete its NCAA record 89th consecutive home win. Mueller had five kills on 10 swings, while Licht added four kills and a block, as NU out-hit the Cavaliers, .289-.105. Nebraska raced out to a 7-2 lead on strong serving by Anderson and Mueller, as the Huskers had three aces in the set’s first nine points, including back-to-back aces from Mueller. The Huskers pushed the lead to 13-6 after an Anderson kill, only to see Virginia run off four straight to get within 13-10 on a Kendahl Voelker kill. Leading 14-11, the Husker pulled away with a 7-3 spurt, punctuated by a Mueller kill to stretch to lead to seven points and end the Cavaliers’ hopes for a comeback.
Asque led Virginia with seven kills on .120 hitting, as the Cavaliers (4-3) saw their four-match win streak snapped.
The Huskers will continue tournament action in the Ameritas Players Challenge Friday evening against BYU at 7 p.m. The match will be carried on the Husker Sports Network and on the Internet at Huskers.com. BYU dropped a 3-1 decision to No. 8 UCLA in Thursday’s first tournament match.
Nebraska Outside Hitter Tara Mueller
On stepping into the role of top outside hitter
"I don't really see it that I'm the go-to player because all of us, everyone on the team last year and all the new players, have needed to step up and do their own part. I think that my role is to be a consistent leader and not to allow myself to play with my emotions and then make errors and things like that. That's the main part of my role and just having fun out there."
On gaining momentum after this match
"I think that we're heading upwards. We're definitely starting to trust each other more and starting to feed off each other more as a team. We're starting to play more as a team so I think that would be a way we would have some momentum."
Nebraska Coach John Cook
"I thought we started off real shaky and nervous. Serving is always the tell-tale sign, and our serving was awful that first game. Once we settled down, I thought we did some good things. We are still continuing to tweek our lineup, and I thought that was fairly smooth tonight. I liked the direction we're heading."
On tonight's lineup
"Our goal is to get our six best players, or the majority of our six best or eight best players playing. Gina (Mancuso) and Hannah (Werth) are both just too good to have one of them sitting out, so we went to this because Gina we feel is our best back row attacker. So, she's going to get swings out of the back row. We want to get more fire power in the back row when Sydney (Anderson) is in the front row. I think Gina is our best defensive player in middle back and that gets her there three times, and she's also consistently one of our best servers right now. It's kind of a creative way, but we think it's all about scoring points here and there, and we think Gina can do that."
On Nebraska's defense
"Brook (Delano) should have had a lot more blocks tonight, but Jordan Wilberger did a nice job blocking tonight. She figured out what she needed to do. Hannah Werth had a couple of big stuffs. When you block out there like Hannah does and get some big stuffs like that, it really starts messing with hitters and setters. So again those guys are doing a nice job of following the game plan. Jordan Wilberger should do it because she has experience. Hannah is just very good at following directions and making adjustments. That's one thing where she really stands out as a freshman. She's able to make adjustments immediately. She's still going to make freshman mistakes, but she'll make adjustments if we ask her to."
Virginia Coach Lee Maes
"It's a wonderful opportunity to be back in Nebraska. There really is no place like Nebraska. We wanted to expose our team to this environment. It's something I've had the good fortune of being in for three years, but more importantly it was an opportunity to come to this tournament and play three of the best teams in the country. We had an opportunity to come out and prepare knowing that we need to go out and give ourselves an opportunity to compete for every point in every single set. It's a great growing experience for our team. We're a young squad. We're obviously going to be a work in progress but I like our competitiveness tonight and it was a great opportunity to see some growth from some of our young players."
On being back in Nebraska
"I've always told everyone what makes Nebraska special is the people. The fans give such incredible support to the Huskers, but not just to the Huskers but anyone who plays here. It's a thrill when you get to be in that environment and knowing that there are so many people who appreciate the support and who also have knowledge of the sport. It's electric when you can go out there and play some good volleyball and put out a good product for the fans to appreciate."