For the first 37 points of Wednesday night’s volleyball match, nothing was going according to plan. No. 3 Nebraska looked flustered, and No. 25 Missouri controlled play.
For the final 125 points, the Nebraska juggernaut got back on track.
The Cornhuskers beat the Tigers 30-26, 30-27, 30-19 at Hearnes Center behind strong serving from reserve setter Michelle Lynch, devastating hitting from outside hitter Christina Houghtelling and great all-around defense.
“They’re a great team,” junior middle blocker Lindsey Noll said. “Sometimes they beat teams because they intimidate them. That’s their game, and it was really tough for us to get on a run and get the momentum back on our side. They stayed aggressive the whole time, and we started to back off a little bit.”
With Missouri ahead 21-16 in Game 1, the ’Huskers used four kills, an ace and a Tiger error to quickly even the game at 22. Three of the points came on Lynch’s serve. Missouri momentarily retook a 23-22 lead, but Nebraska couldn’t be stopped.
“We were ahead of them in the first game, we were staying with them the whole time,” junior setter Lindsey Hunter said. “It was just unforced errors that we can’t afford to make. We have such a small margin for error when we play teams like that.”
Nebraska won its 21st match in a row and improved to 24-1 and 17-0 in the Big 12 Conference.
The ’Huskers also clinched at least a share of the conference title giving them seven of the nine Big 12 championships. Missouri fell to 17-7, 12-5.
Houghtelling recorded 17 kills without an error on 23 attacks for a .739 hitting percentage. She also added eight digs. Lynch finished with a career-high six aces, one shy of Nebraska’s school record.
“She has a very good jump serve,” Hunter said. “It kind of has a weird spin on it. The problem for us was communication on her serves. We need to think, we need to talk and not be aggressive and not be intimidated by her serving.”
For Missouri, Noll and sophomore middle blocker Nicole Wilson were the most effective, finishing with a combined 18 kills.
The shorter Tigers, however, struggled against Nebraska, which has the second-tallest team in the country.
Shen Danru hit .130 and Lisa Boyd, who led the Big 12 in hitting percentage coming in, hit only .071.
“What Nebraska does to people is they get a couple of big blocks and then they start causing teams to think too much,” associate coach Wayne Kreklow said. “Then you start trying to avoid the block and you start making errors.”
In the second game, Nebraska went on a 7-0 run behind Lynch’s serve to lead 11-3. Missouri eventually fought back to within 28-27, but the Cornhuskers hung on again, getting a block from Melissa Elmer and Dani Busboom on game point.
Lynch was again the catalyst for Nebraska in Game 3. With Nebraska leading 4-3, she served two straight aces and three points overall to extend the lead to 7-3. Before long, that lead was 11-4 and Nebraska coasted to the finish for its seventh sweep in a row.
“Against a good team like Nebraska, what you’ve got to try to do is get yourself in a position down the stretch that a game could go either way,” Kreklow said. “In Games 1 and 2, we did that, but in Game 3, we started to fall apart.”
Coming into the match, Missouri was the best offensive team in the Big 12, leading the conference in kills and assists per game, while Nebraska was the best defensive team, leading in blocks and digs per game.
Missouri hit .312 on Wednesday, by far the highest percentage Nebraska has allowed this year. But the Cornhuskers also had a banner offensive day.
They made only 12 errors and hit .402, their second-highest percentage on the year and the highest Missouri has given up this year.