IOWA CITY — Sandwiched between three straight wins over top-15 opponents and next week’s rematch at No. 7 Wisconsin, Saturday night’s match at unranked Iowa loomed as a potential trap for No. 4 Nebraska.
But a crowd of 4,729, the largest home volleyball attendance in Iowa history, was treated to another verse in a familiar song. The Huskers ground their way through their 17th straight sweep of the Hawkeyes 25-18, 25-17, 25-20 to continue their unbeaten start to Big Ten play.
“We did a really nice job tonight,” coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview. “Defensively, we were on the game plan. We were a little bit sloppy at times. We missed some plays.
“But we served and passed really well, and our blocking finally started getting going. So I’m really, really pleased with their effort even though it wasn’t the prettiest match.”
Style points were a luxury Saturday, as Nebraska (13-3, 6-0 Big Ten) hit .257 led by 10 kills from Mikaela Foecke, who was playing as close as NU gets to her hometown of West Point, Iowa.
But the Huskers’ serve, block and floor defense did their job, keeping another opponents’ offense sluggish. In their previous match, the Hawkeyes hit .329 in an upset of No. 22 Michigan on Wednesday, but Iowa’s .115 attacking mark Saturday made it the fifth straight foe Nebraska held below .200.
Marquette transfer Taylor Louis, the Hawkeyes leading attacker this season, had a match-high 11 kills, but added seven errors to end the night at .108 — nearly 200 points below her season average.
Iowa requires good passing to start a quick-tempo offense with unpredictable patterns, but Nebraska’s serving rarely let the Hawkeyes find that rhythm for more than a few points. Libero Kenzie Maloney was at the service line to start a 10-2 run that put the Huskers in control of Game 1 and had two of Nebraska’s three aces.
It was part of a fine all-around match for the junior from Louisville, Kentucky, her coach said.
“She did a really, really good job in that, played D and served lights out,” Cook said.
Maloney added 10 digs and a pair of assists when forced to set the ball if setter Kelly Hunter took the first contact.
Hunter and freshman Hayley Densberger each served runs of five straight points in Game 2, in which Foecke had five kills and freshman opposite hitter Jazz Sweet had four of her seven kills.
In Game 3, Nebraska navigated a lone bit of trouble again with help from Maloney’s serving. With the Huskers up 20-18, Hunter scored on a setter dump to start a 4-0 run with Maloney at the service line. After a Hawkeyes’ overpass resulted in a back-row block call, Maloney added her second ace to give NU a 24-18 lead.
Nebraska’s front row players also showed off their versatility. Foecke added three blocks and was on the receiving end of two out-of-system sets from Annika Albrecht that Foecke was able to turn into kills.
“We were running the middles and Jazz Sweet when we passed well, so we weren’t really using the left sides,” Cook said. “But, Mikaela had a couple really impressive out-of-system kills. Blocked really well tonight, served great, as always.”
Albrecht had nine kills on 20 swings to raise her season hitting percentage to .265, continuing an impressive turnaround after hitting below .200 in her first five matches of the year.
Hunter led Nebraska with 11 digs and added 30 assists. Middles, senior Briana Holman and freshman Lauren Stivrins, combined for 14 kills and had a hand in seven of the Huskers’ eight blocks.
Saturday’s win was the start of three straight road matches for Nebraska, and the next two don’t get any easier against ranked opponents.
Before a trip to No. 18 Purdue next weekend, the Huskers have a rematch with No. 7 Wisconsin on Wednesday. NU knocked off the Badgers in five games in Lincoln last weekend, and could face a desperate opponent in Madison after Wisconsin dropped its third straight match Saturday, falling in four sets at No. 14 Michigan State.
“There’s no mercy in this conference,” Cook said. “We know, and we’ll have a couple days now to regroup and prepare.”
Nebraska (13-3, 6-0)…..25 25 25
At Iowa (13-6, 2-4)……18 17 20
NU (kills-aces-blocks): Foecke 10-0-3, Albrecht 9-0-0, Holman 8-0-3, Sweet 7-0-2, Stivrins 6-0-4, Hunter 3-1-2, Maloney 0-2-0. Totals 43-3-14.
Iowa: Louis 11-0-2, Sheehan 6-0-1, Janota 6-0-0, Orr 5-0-0, Coyle 5-0-1, O’Neill 2-0-3. Totals 35-0-7.
Set assists: NU 37 (Hunter 30, Albrecht 2, Townsend 2, Maloney 2, Densberger 1), I 34 (Orr 25, Olsen 6, Sheehan 2, Kelly 1)