Lincoln, Neb.- The No. 10 Nebraska Volleyball team (8-1) opened the conference schedule with a bang on Wednesday night, taking down the fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in five sets (25-18, 25-16, 23-25, 19-25, 15-10) at the NU Coliseum. With 4,186 fans on their feet, Penn State could not overcome a dramatic effort by NU to win their inaugural Big Ten Conference match.
"Welcome to the Big Ten," Head Coach John Cook said. "That's what it's going to be like every night, I think. This was a great match for both teams. I know Penn State-we almost had them in three there, and they didn't quit. I thought we played, besides that missed serve, almost perfect in game five. We executed exactly like we'd been trying to do in games three and four. You never know what your team's got until you see them in that situation. Our fans and Husker Nation, our team's got to be really pleased with how they responded."
The Huskers saw Gina Mancuso lead all NU hitters with 22 kills. She tallied her fifth double-double of the season with 10 digs on the night. Morgan Broekhuis tallied the second double-double of her career with 12 kills and 11 digs. Lauren Cook notched 53 assists, while Hannah Werth led the Huskers defensively with 13 digs.
The Huskers held PSU to a .182 hitting percentage for the match, the second lowest hitting percentage for the Nittany Lions on the season. Nu also out-blocked Penn State 11 to nine and also out-dug PSU 66-60.
The last time the Huskers beat a top-five team was in 2010 when NU topped then-No. 3 Illinois in five sets at the Bob Devaney Sports Center
The Huskers and Nittany Lions came out ready to compete in the first set, with both teams tying each other eight different times, last at 10-10 on an ace by Penn State. Nebraska then began to pull away, eventually gaining a lead of 15-11 on a kill by Broekhuis. The Huskers stretched the lead to 20-15 on a service error by PSU and later to 22-16 on another error by the Nittany Lions. Nebraska eventually took the match 25-18 on a kill by Broekhuis.
Mancuso led NU in the first set, tallying seven kills on 10 attacks. Cook had 11 assists, and a service ace in guiding NU to the set one victory. Broekhuis and Thramer each had two kills apiece. Nebraska held Penn State to a .118 hitting percentage for the set.
Nebraska came out firing in the second set, taking an early 5-2 lead on a kill by Broekhuis. Another kill put NU up 9-5 and forced Penn State to call a timeout. Brooke Delano catapulted the Huskers with a kill to make it 16-12 and Cook added a kill of her own to put the Huskers up 18-14. Nebraska took a 23-15 lead on an error by the Nittany Lions and eventually won the second set 25-16 with a kill by Broekhuis.
Mancuso led NU once again in the second set, totaling six kills on 15 attacks. Cook had 13 assists and a kill of her own, while the team totaled 18 digs. Nebraska hit .371 for the set, but held PSU to a hitting percentage of .147.
Nebraska started hot in the third set, going up 12-5 on an error by Penn State. However the Huskers could not hold the Nittany Lions back, as they slowly inched their way to the lead and tied the set at 17-17 on an attack error by NU. Penn State went ahead 19-17 and forced Nebraska to call a timeout, but the Huskers came back to tie it up at 20 apiece. Penn State proved to be too much for NU in the third set, eventually topping the Huskers 25-23, forcing a fourth set.
The Huskers were led by Mancuso in the third set with six kills and four digs. Werth had three kills of her own, but Nebraska was held to a .135 hitting percentage. The Nittany Lions tallied a hitting percentage of .289 and notched three team blocks for the set.
In the fourth set Penn State jumped out to an early lead at 6-4 on an attack error by the Huskers. The Nittany Lions stretched their lead to 16-9 as the Huskers could not make up for lost ground. NU cut it as close as 20-16 on a service ace by Lara Dykstra, but that would not be enough to propel the Huskers to win the set. Penn State eventually took the fourth set 25-19 and tied the match at two sets apiece.
In the fifth set Nebraska came out determined to walk away with a victory. Behind the roar of the crowd at the Coliseum, NU went ahead 4-1 early in the set. The Huskers then capitalized on an attack error by PSU to take the lead at 6-2. Penn State would not go down without a fight and challenged the Huskers with a kill to make it 11-8 in favor of NU. Nebraska switched into a new gear and gave the Coliseum more to cheer about as a kill by Mancuso made it 14-9. Penn State would only score one more point and Nebraska would take the set 15-10 on a kill by Broekhuis. With the fifth-set victory, NU won the match 3-2, giving the Huskers their first Big Ten Conference victory.
Broekhuis and Mancuso each had three kills in the fifth set, while Cook had seven assists. The Huskers held PSU to a -.042 hitting percentage, while NU hit .353 for the set.
"I told the team, whether we win or lose this, it's just the first match of 20 in the Big Ten," Cook said. "It feels good to see this team, when we got into the defining moment of game five, how well we executed. I mean, they just took it up a notch. Even Lauren (Cook) got a stuff block in game five, and they were working her pretty good. I think that just showed them they have an unbelievable amount of trust in what we've been training and what we're telling them and in each other. They got tested tonight, and they proved it. It feels really good, because you know how hard we work on that mindset. We've been doing this since January, trying to get them to believe that they can be a great team."
The Huskers will return to the NU Coliseum on Saturday, Sept. 24 to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes at 7 p.m. The match will air live on NET and can also be seen on BTN.com.