LINCOLN — Settling in for a postgame interview after his team dominated No. 11 UCLA for the second straight night, Nebraska coach John Cook was greeted with a DVD of the recently completed match.
No. 12 Nebraska’s 25-15, 25-19, 25-17 win was already one for the highlight reel, the kind Cook might make copies of to hand out as gifts. For the second straight night, the Huskers smothered their Pac-12 guests and made swift work of the Bruins to win their fifth match in a row.
“If you’d asked me two days ago if we’d beat these guys 3-0, 3-0, I would’ve never believed it,” Cook said. “Our team, I thought not only did we play well (Friday) night, but we took it up another notch tonight.”
Nebraska (5-2) had its offense clicking from the start. The Huskers hit .407 in the first set and finished at .301 for the match, a season high for a UCLA opponent.
Senior setter Kelly Hunter handed out 31 assists and gave the three pin hitters all a chance to have big nights. Outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led all players with 12 kills, and freshman opposite hitter Jazz Sweet put up a career-high .529 hitting percentage with 10 kills against one error on 17 swings.
Nebraska’s two sweeps of UCLA (5-2) coincided with Hunter’s return to playing full time after being limited by a preseason injury. She missed the Huskers first two matches, losses to top-15 teams in the VERT Challenge, and split time with redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton in a 6-2 as Cook worked her back into the lineup.
Cook was concerned Hunter would be able to go the distance on back-to-back night, but got the OK from Nebraska’s medical staff. And if she felt any the worse for wear, the Papillion-La Vista south grad wasn’t admitting it.
“It was good to get back out there with the team, and playing all the way around gets you in a better groove,” said Hunter, who added a match-high 14 digs for her first double-double of the year. “I think any setter would say not coming out of the game kind of helps a little bit. We had a great opening, and we played great, and we had so much energy and fun. I feel great. The team feels great.”
Full of smiles, the Huskers gave the Devaney Center crowd of 8,039 few nervous moments. The only danger Nebraska faced in the later stage of any set came in Game 2, when the Bruins trimmed Nebraska’s 16-10 lead to 19-17.
But the Huskers pulled away with two kills from senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht and a kill and a block from Foecke to close the set on a 6-2 run. Albrecht continued her standout weekend with eight kills and no errors for a career-best .471 attack percentage. That came a night after Albrecht scored 12 kills on .400 hitting.
“Obviously she’s a banger and she’ll go up and she’ll hit the ball,” Hunter said of Albrecht. “But yesterday in particular she really moved the ball around. We saw line shots, we saw roll shots, sharp cut shots. She moved it around today too.”
Cook said UCLA’s adjustment to focus more defensive attention on Nebraska’s middles opened the door for Sweet in the finale. She found the floor on six of her nine swings in the third set using an array of shots that when between and off the fingers of defenders.
“I just think seeing the blockers’ hands,” Sweet said when asked the key to her Game 3 breakout. “We were running the (right side), but we were also running the middles and the outsides. Just with running the outsides and the middles, it opens me up so I do get more swings off of that.”
After hitting .095 Friday night, UCLA didn’t do much better in the rematch. Four Bruins had seven kills, but three of them hit below .100 as UCLA finished at .133 as a team.
With Hunter’s return, a balanced attack, and a wave of positive energy, the sweep was the high-water mark of the young season for the Huskers.
Not so for the Bruins, whose weekend in Lincoln resulted in their two lowest hitting marks of the year.
“I thought our passing and serving was really good tonight, and then that just fueled our floor defense,” Cook said. “They had a hard time getting balls down on us tonight.
“We dug some really good shots, and I think we probably frustrated UCLA a little bit with that.”
UCLA (5-2) ……………. 15 19 17
At Nebraska (5-2) ….. 25 25 25
UCLA (kills-aces-blocks): Rogers 7-0-2, Buechler 7-0-0, May 7-1-0, Gates 7-0-3, Mosser 4-0-2, Sponcil 1-0-1. Totals: 33-1-8.
NU: Foecke 12-0-3, Sweet 10-0-3, Albrecht 8-2-0, Stivrins 6-0-2, Holman 5-0-4, Hunter 2-0-1, Maloney 0-1-0. Totals: 43-3-13.
Set assists: UCLA 33 (Sponcil 30, May 1, Muno 1, Simo 1), NU 40 (Hunter 31, Maloney 5, Townsend 2, Foecke 1, Albrecht 1)