NCAA roundup: No. 1 Nebraska survives big scare, Texas still rules Big 12

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Ebony Nwanebu-Texas-Big 12-NCAA roundup-Kelsie Payne-Kansas-KU-Jayhawks-Longhorns
Ebony Nwanebu of Texas hits through Kansas blocker Kelsie Payne during one of their 2016 meetings/UT Athletics

No. 20 Michigan State went up two sets to none over unbeaten No. 1 Nebraska and lost in five.

No. 8 Kansas was up 23-19 in the first set at No. 5 Texas, lost it, and fell in four.

Purdue played before 8,240 fans at home to retain control of the Monon Spike.

And No. 2 Minnesota had all it could handle against No. 17 Ohio State.

Just another Saturday in NCAA volleyball, where Sunday’s slate promises more fun on the 30 by 30.

A few of the matches of note:

— Surging Arizona,which has won nine of 10, at No. 16 (but likely to fall) Colorado.

— No. 6 Florida at Alabama, which stunned No. 19 Texas A&M on Friday.

— A full slate in the ACC, including slumping Louisville, ranked in the preseason but now at 5-6 with a tough match at No. 15 Florida State.

— Sun Belt newcomer Coastal Carolina (10-3) playing host to No. 25 Western Kentucky (13-2) in a battle of two of the nation’s top mid-majors.

— Surprising Tulane (9-4), which won its American Athletic Conference opener in five at Temple, at Connecticut, 10-2 and after beating Houston in its AAC opener, winner of seven of eight.

Back to East Lansing, where Nebraska, which entered the match 10-0 and 30-2 in sets — the Huskers lost their first set of the year to Florida and then the first set to Creighton two matches earlier — and the major upset alert was on.

The final: 22-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-14, 16-14, with State up 13-8 in the third and then Nebraska facing match point at 14-13 in the fifth.

But ultimately the defending NCAA champions improved to 11-0 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten by winning their 27th match in a row.

Mikaela Foecke had a season-high 17 kills, while Kadie Rolfzen had 16 kills and nine digs. Amber Rolfzen had eight kills and five blocks and Andie Malloy had seven kills. Olivia Boender — who entered the match in the third set — had eight kills. Briana Holman had seven kills and six blocks.

Kelly Hunter put up a season-high 53 assists with 10 digs and six blocks. Justine Wong-Orantes had a team-high 14 digs, while Annika Albrecht had a season-best 13 digs to go with two aces and three kills on five attacks. Kenzie Maloney added eight digs, and Sydney Townsend had two.

Nebraska hit .303 and held the Spartans to .214. Michigan State was hitting over .400 midway through the third set, but NU held the Spartans to -.083 in the fourth set and .172 in the fifth.

Chloe Reinig had season bests of 16 kills and five blocks, (one solo). Rachel Minarick had with 52 assists (three off her career best) and 12 digs, while Autumn Bailey also had 13 kills, 10 digs, three aces, and three assists.

As Michigan State coach Cathy George pointed out, this was the second match of a 20-match Big Ten season. But it was also the second straight season that MSU has fallen to Nebraska at home 3-2.

“It’s a tough loss for sure, especially when you feel like you have them on the ropes,” George said. “You also know that it’s an incredibly talented team on the other side of the net, and they aren’t going to give you much.

“Our players got to hear from MSU’s 1976 team after the match tonight, and I thought that they had a great message for us, that we needed to to stick together, believe in what we’re doing, and to learn from tonight’s disappointment and make it the start of something special.”

Reinig gave MSU match point, but Boender produced a clutch kill to make it 14-14. Incredible digs by Wong-Orantes and Maloney on the next rally led to a Spartan hitting error to give the Huskers match point. A stuff by Hunter and Amber Rolfzen clinched the Huskers’ 27th straight win.

In Austin, where Gregory Gym is simply a madhouse for opposing teams, Texas came away with a (27-25, 25-16, 18-25, 25-19 victory over a matchup of two teams that made up half of last year’s national semifinals. But if you have any doubt about who rules the Big 12, consider that the Longhorns beat Kansas for the 25th consecutive time.

Texas (10-2, 2-0) hit .351 as junior outside hitter Ebony Nwanebu led by hitting .514 with 20 kills. Freshman outside hitter Micaya White’s 22 kills were a match high, and she hit .348 hitting to go with eight digs.

With the Longhorns trailing 23-19, Paulina Prieto Cerame had two of her 12 kills as Texas battled back to even the score at 23-23. From there, the Longhorns fended off Kansas’ first set point with a kill from Nwanebu, and a Jayhawk service error on the next set point prolonged the battle. The home crowd reached a fever pitch when the Longhorns claimed a 26-25 advantage off a kill from White, giving Texas its first set point. The deciding volley ended in an attacking error for Kansas.

“Again, for us right now, the big thing is our defense,” UT coach Jerritt Elliott said. “Our numbers that we’re hitting are some of the best we’ve had ever here at Texas. But our defensive numbers aren’t as good and so it’s being locked in for a longer period of time and making sure that we’re getting good touches. We’re really spending some time, we’re doing a lot of blocking in practice and making sure that we’re really working hard in those areas.

Setter Chloe Collins, who sat out the Longhorns’ victory at West Virginia with an injury, was back on the court and had 52 assists.

“It was good. Chloe just kind of pumps me up. She gets me so excited after every kill and so having her cheering me on and encouraging me gets me more fired up,” White said.

It was another tough homecoming for Austin-area products Kelsie Payne and Madison Rigdon, who combined for 38 of KU’s 60 kills to lead the Jayhawks (12-2, 1-1).

Rigdon had 20 kills and 13 digs. Payne had 18 kills and hit .444.

“We missed out on an opportunity tonight,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “We played well enough at times, but the first-set loss really stings. Not only did we not finish that set, there was carry-over into the second set. The response in the third set was pretty good but when you are playing a high-level team on their floor and you get an opportunity to jump out to a one-set lead, you have to take advantage of that.”

Ah, the Monon Spike, the trophy that goes to the winner of the Indiana-Purdue match. In this case it was the home team as the Boilermakers won 25-15, 25-17, 25-18 by hitting .517,  fifth-best in a three-game match in program history and second best in the rally-scoring era.

Danielle Cuttino led Purdue (11-2, 1-1) with nine kills, one of six Boilermakers with six or more. Faye Adelaja had eight kills, no errors to hit .889, and added four blocks.

Indiana, having one of its best starts ever, dropped to 12-3, 1-1. Allison Hammond led with nine kills.

Minnesota's Hannah Tapp puts up the block against Nebraska's Mikaela Foecke/Eric Miller photo, University of Minnesota
Minnesota’s Hannah Tapp puts up the block against Ohio State as Sarah Wilhite covers/Eric Miller photo, University of Minnesota

Minnesota improved to 10-1, 2-0, by holding off Ohio State 25-16, 25-18, 18-25, 25-22.

Sarah Wilhite led the Gophers with 15 kills as she hit .316, Alexis Hart followed with nine kills and Molly Lohman had seven kills and hit. 500.

Ohio State fell to 10-4, 0-2. Vaeria Leon had 22 digs and Madison Smeathers had eight kills with no errors.

Other matches of note:

No. 3 Wisconsin overpowered visiting Maryland  25-12, 25-18, 25-21.

“Credit to Wisconsin, they’re a really good team,” said Maryland coach Steve Aird, whose young team had the unenviable task of opening at No. 2 Minnesota before heading to Wisconsin. “I’m proud of the way this team fought hard in the third set and kept battling. We have a really young squad, and this was a huge learning lesson being thrown into Big Ten play with two of the top-ranked teams in the nation.”

It’s the first time since 2013 that Wisconsin is 2-0 in the Big Ten season.

Also … Utah has improved to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in the after beating visiting Arizona State in five, Georgetown surprised Villanova on its home court in three, Quinnipiac improved to 4-0 in the MAAC by sweeping Iona, Loyola Marymount went to Pepperdine and sweeping the Waves, Weber State improved to 10-1 by beating visiting Portland State, SMU went five to win a key American Athletic Conference match over Cincinnati and Tulsa improving to 12-2 and evening its AAC record at 1-1 by beating East Carolina, UNLV is 13-1 and 2-0 in the Mountain West by sweeping Air Force, New Mexico State hled off Utah Valley 16-14 in the fifth to improve to 11-4, 2-0 in the WAC, BYU improved to 13-1  by routing USF, and Hawai’i won at Cal Poly to go 2-0 away from home this season.

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