Three takes from No. 6 Nebraska losing its first Big Ten match to Wisconsin
Husker volleyball Head Coach John Cook's opening statement at the media conference said it all.
"It comes down to winning games by two points," Cook said. "We lost two of the games by two points tonight."
No. 6 Nebraska was swept by No. 3 Wisconsin 26-24, 25-19 and 25-23. The Huskers looked a lot like their previous selves from the preseason span of three-straight losses with moments of the way they've been playing in the Big Ten.
Here are my three takes from Nebraska's first loss in the Big Ten.
Not adequate serving and passing
All season long, Cook has been talking about improving and focusing on Nebraska's serving and passing. On Wednesday, he said his team didn't do either well enough.
Setter Nicklin Hames served the first serve into the net and Cook said that sent a message to the Badgers.
"You can look at the first serve, bottom of the net," Cook said. "What message does that send to Wisconsin? Here you go, we're not going to compete tonight. It's just a mentally weak play."
Nebraska had seven service errors and no aces for the first time this season. The Huskers had at least three aces against all of their Big Ten opponents until meeting Wisconsin.
The Badgers had an equal amount of service errors but seemingly put more pressure on the Huskers from the service line.
There were lots of long rallies and Wisconsin won what felt like the majority. The Badgers had 66 digs and the Huskers had 60 digs. That is a lot of digs for a three-set match.
Libero Lauren Barnes had 20 digs and setter Sydney Hilley had 16 digs and 37 assists on top of that.
On Nebraska's side, Hames led the Huskers with 14 digs. Libero Lexi Rodriguez had 11 digs and defensive specialist Keonilei Akana had 10 digs.
It was a defensive battle that felt like an offensive one with so many powerful swings.
Wisconsin handled these swings better and put more serving pressure on its opponent -- a combination that helps immensely in two-point games.
Hames said this team reverted to how they were playing in the preseason stretch when they lost three consecutive games to ranked opponents.
"I just don't think the team that played out there today was the Nebraska volleyball team we've seen," Hames said. "We played tentative we didn't play like ourselves. We just need to go out there and play free. Be aggressive. Go after it."
Nebraska seemed to be going through the motions on some plays. Wisconsin was hitting balls faster than the Huskers' defenders could begin diving at the ball.
Wisconsin freshman middle blocker Anna Smrek had her best game of the season with a team-high 12 kills and hit .647. Cook said the Badgers' plan was to match up 6-foot-7 Smrek up with Nebraska middle blocker Kayla Caffey, who is 6-foot-0. Cook said that was a good matchup.
The Huskers will have to find a way to push past this part of the team that seems to come out against top-ranked opponents and "weather the storm," as Cook said, to find success at the end of the season.
Learn and move past
No days off in the Big Ten volleyball.
Nebraska travels to No. 11 Minnesota for a Saturday match at 7 p.m.
They need to learn from their mistakes against Wisconsin and move past this match.
Cook's message to his team is to be "bulletproof" and not let anything get them too high or too low. Just focus on the next point. Nebraska didn't do that against Wisconsin, Cook said.
However, they have a chance to prove they can be "bulletproof" from match to match, something important in the Big Ten.
The Huskers spent almost all of the match playing catchup. Wisconsin took an early 5-1 lead in the first set. Nebraska came back but couldn't close out the set. The Badgers dominated the second set.
NU had its best chance to beat Wisconsin in set three as they led all of the set besides the first point and after the Badgers tied it up 18-18.
"I feel like the entire time we played from behind," said Krause. "We're used to being the aggressors and pushing forward and playing our game. So I feel like that was our problem for this match. We just let them be in the driver's seat the whole time."
With basically all of the best teams in the conference left on their schedule, Nebraska needs to learn to find a way to fight back and become the aggressor in a match.
Cook said he won't know if this team has learned from this match until Saturday against Minnesota.
"It's a tough conference, you're going to get some lessons you can learn," Cook said. "So the question is do we learn and we will see tomorrow in practice, our first opportunity is to think about it tonight and then go back to work."