WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The No. 6-ranked Nebraska volleyball team saw its eight-match winning streak snapped Friday night in what's become the Huskers' house of horrors in the Big Ten.
Nebraska was as out-of-sync as it has been all year in suffering its first sweep of the season, losing to No. 25 Purdue 26-24, 25-21, 25-16. The loss gave the Boilermakers a season sweep of NU.
“Purdue just wanted to win tonight a lot more than the Huskers did,” Nebraska coach John Cook said in a postmatch radio interview. “They played great and deserved it. They just had way more willpower than we did.”
Since moving to the Big Ten in 2011, the Huskers have been swept only twice, but both have come in Purdue's rowdy Holloway Gym. Friday's match bore a strong resemblance to the Boilermakers' 2011 blowout victory in which they hit .410.
Purdue (17-11, 8-9 Big Ten) hit .302 Friday night — reaching the .300 mark for the second time against the Huskers. Val Nichol, Purdue's setter-outside hitter, was outstanding again with 12 kills and 20 assists running the Boilermakers' 6-2 offense. She hurt NU with 13 kills when Purdue won in four sets in Lincoln on Oct. 18.
An error-prone Nebraska attack did little to give the Huskers a chance Friday. Nebraska's .136 attack percentage was by far its lowest mark of the year. The Huskers were blocked 11 times and erred on 14 more attacks.
“We really didn't do anything well, except maybe serving,” Cook said. “Nor did we play great as a team, and that's the most disappointing part.”
Purdue's defense loaded up on Kelsey Robinson and silenced the All-American like no other opponent has done all year. Robinson, who entered the match leading the Big Ten in kills (4.82 per set) and ranking third in hitting percentage (.365), was held to 11 kills while racking up seven errors to finish at .121.
Kadie Rolfzen led the Huskers (21-5, 14-3) with 12 kills, but had only four after the first set.
The Boilermakers largely controlled the match with floor defense, led by libero Carly Cramer. Purdue finished with 44 digs, compared with 32 for the Huskers. Cramer's 14 digs led all players, and the Purdue specialist seemed in position to deny kills even if NU got an attack past the Boilermakers' block.
The Huskers seemed in great position to take the first set, leading 20-16 before the Boilermakers scored five straight. NU held leads of 22-21 and 23-22 only to commit service errors both times. Two straight kills from Nichol closed the opener for the Boilermakers, and it appeared as though the air went out of the Huskers after that.
“They're at home, and we gave them confidence,” Cook said. “We missed four serves in the first game, and they had a couple big plays. We win that first game, and it's a whole different match.”
In the second set, Purdue scored four straight to break a 17-17 tie, and finished the match with a blowout in the finale.
Purdue used an 11-2 run in the final set to take a 20-11 lead. Cook tried several lineup changes in search of a spark, including playing seldom-used sophomores Kelsey Fien and Alicia Ostrander, in addition to true freshman middle Melanie Keil.
Nothing worked, and Nebraska now finds itself two games behind No. 2 Penn State in the conference going into Saturday's 6 p.m. match at Indiana (9-19, 1-16). The Hoosiers lost in five sets to Iowa on Friday night.
“I told them, 'This is a big shot of adversity. We'll find out how good of a team we want to be tomorrow,' ” Cook said.
Nebraska (21-5, 14-3) .......................................... 24 21 16
At Purdue (17-11, 8-9) .......................................... 26 25 25
NU (kills-aces-blocks): K. Rolfzen 12-0-2, Robinson 11-0-1, A. Rolfzen 8-0-2, Haggerty 5-0-2, Pollmiller 2-0-1, Keil 2-0-2, Fien 1-0-0, Hunter 0-1-0. Totals 41-1-12.
P: Nichol 12-1-1, Rebarchak 9-0-6, Jones 6-0-5, Adelaja 5-0-6, Epenesa 4-0-0, Drews 4-0-2, Griffin 2-0-0, Neill 0-2-0. Totals 42-3-20.
Set assists: NU 38 (Pollmiller 27, K. Rolzen 1, Hall 2, Robinson 1, Ethridge 1, Hunter 1, Wong-Orantes 5), P 39 (Nichol 20, Davis 16, Cramer 3). Att.: 2,530
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Video: Highlights from NU-Purdue