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Boosted by their middles, Huskers take simple approach to put away Campbell in opening round
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Boosted by their middles, Huskers take simple approach to put away Campbell in opening round

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Sometimes in sports, you don’t have to overthink it.

That was the case for the Nebraska volleyball team on Friday, playing against a Campbell squad that doesn’t have a starter taller than 6-foot.

“They’re a little smaller than we are, so just hitting high-line (looping shot) on the slide was working for both of us tonight,” said Nebraska 6-foot-4 middle blocker Lauren Stivrins of her and fellow senior middle Kayla Caffey.

The Huskers got great matches from their middle blockers in a three-set win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska’s top 10-ranked defense also had a big part in the Huskers winning 25-14, 25-14, 25-17 at the Devaney Sports Center.

Nebraska, playing in the tournament for the 40th straight season, improved to 34-1 all-time in the first round.

The Huskers will play Florida State (20-9) in the second round at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Campbell struggled to string together kills and finished with a minus-.022 hitting percentage, the lowest for a Nebraska opponent this season. It’s the first time Nebraska has held an opponent to negative hitting in the NCAA Tournament since 2010.

Lexi Rodriguez had 10 digs, and Madi Kubik had eight.

Nebraska got 18 kills combined from its three senior middle blockers. Stivrins had a match-high nine kills with a .412 hitting percentage, and also six blocks and an ace serve. Caffey added seven kills and three blocks. And senior Callie Schwarzenbach, who started early in the season before Stivrins returned from an injury, entered the match in the third set and had two kills.

In the first set alone, the middles had seven kills on 12 attempts.

“Me and (setter Nickin Hames) work really hard on our connection in the gym and I think she feels comfortable setting it to me, and trying to get us fired up to start off with,” Caffey said.

Nebraska was able to go to its middles because the Huskers were really strong in serve-receive, NU coach John Cook said.

Nebraska finished with 44 kills and hit .272.

Campbell managed just 20 kills over 89 attempts. Eight players had a kill, but none had more than four.

Entering the match, Cook said he’d never seen a two-setter offense like the one Campbell runs, where they try to move their hitters around more than most teams.

Nebraska played with great discipline to still have a great match on defense.

“It’s like guerrilla warfare,” Cook said of the Campbell offense. “They’re hiding in the jungle, and you don’t know where they are.”

“They didn’t know where they were tonight, either,” added Cook in reference to a lengthy stoppage during the third set to sort out the rotation. “It was hard to follow them. Our players did a really nice job. We kept it really simple. They got a couple of kills early, but we held them to negative and these guys did a really nice job shutting their middles down after the first four or five kills.”

In the first set, Nebraska raced to an 8-2 lead, when Campbell hit out three times in the first 10 rallies. Nebraska extended its lead when Hames served a 5-0 run for a 16-6 lead.

Kubik and Ally Batenhorst played outside hitter in the first two sets, and Lindsay Krause played right-side hitter. But for the third set Lexi Sun and Whitney Lauenstein came in for Batenhorst and Krause.

Krause had a good match with five kills on nine attempts. Batenhorst had three kills but hit .100. Lauenstein had two kills on four attempts.

Nebraska's defense and serving will give it a chance to win against any team in this tournament.

It's Nebraska’s lack of consistency at the second outside hitter and right-side hitter positions that's the Huskers’ biggest question mark in the postseason.

“I want us to be a little bit better than we’ve been,” Cook said of those positions. “But we got five players that we can play and I got no problem playing them. At this point of the year, if you’re not getting it done, we’ll give somebody else a shot. This isn’t about, 'OK, we’re going to trust you for a while and let you work through this.'

“This is do or die at this point. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been playing people because if you get in these situations, if you got people you can play, I want them feeling comfortable starting or coming in.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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