Senior Lexi Sun, her right palm facing down toward the court, dove to the ground and slid her hand between the ball and the floor to keep the rally going — and to follow through on the Huskers’ plan for Wednesday’s showdown with Creighton.
Nebraska wanted relentless defense. Every single point.
Sun’s effort — keeping a ball alive after it’d gently grazed the net and appeared destined to drop in for a CU kill — was just the 13th point of the match. But it was a tone-setter, and a precursor to the winning formula that defined NU’s convincing sweep over the previously surging Jays (6-1).
Sun hit the floor. Then senior Callie Schwarzenbach, with her knees skidding out of bounds, bumped it backward with her right arm before senior Nicklin Hames’ lunging left-arm return floated back over the net to force Creighton to start its attack again. There were countless plays like that Wednesday.
“It was super fun to see everyone flying all over the place and being everywhere on defense,” Sun said. “It was a great defensive effort.”
The Huskers, who improved to 20-0 all time against Creighton, did not relent all night in front of 11,279 at CHI Health Center, the 10th-largest volleyball-only crowd in NCAA history.
They used long stretches of dominance to seize control of each set of the 25-14, 25-22, 25-16 victory, dictating the terms of the match with their pinpoint serves and scrappy back-row defense.
There was a 9-1 surge midway through the first set. An 8-0 run flipped the second game and gave No. 3 Nebraska a 22-18 lead and an eventual 2-0 set advantage. The Huskers (6-0) put Game 3 away relatively quickly, using a 7-0 run to create early separation.
Sophomore Keonilei Akana was behind the line for two of those stretches Wednesday night. Hames made it 18-9 and forced a timeout in Game 3 when she dropped a serve at the feet of Creighton’s back-line defenders — she raised her right arm to point toward the spot, celebrating her precision.
“Our players took the challenge and really stepped up,” coach John Cook said.
The Jays couldn’t match their opponent.
They entered the match a few days removed from a sweep at then-No. 3 Kentucky, last season’s national champion. Their 6-0 record marked the best start in program history.
But CU’s hitters struggled to solve Nebraska’s defense. Coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said the Jays expected to win more points with their back-row attacks and their change-of-pace tips.
The Huskers were everywhere, though, she said.
Creighton’s top two kills leaders, freshman Norah Sis and senior Jaela Zimmerman, combined for 12 kills on 80 swings. The Jays hadn’t been held to an attack percentage under .200 in any of their previous six matches — but they hit .053 Wednesday.
“I thought Nebraska’s defense was the best we’ve seen,” Booth said. “They were really good defensively. That disrupted us.”
It may have taken a little sting out of Creighton’s attack, too, Booth said. Frustration mounted. Confidence waned.
After Nebraska scored four straight points in the second game to tie it 18-18, the Jays hit one swing long, another wide and got aced. During that decisive run in the third set, CU launched two swings out of bounds and got a third one blocked — plus an ace, and an overpass that led to an NU kill.
But that was the Huskers’ objective Wednesday.
They didn’t want the Jays to get comfortable. So they kept the pressure on by keeping the ball alive.