The Ohio State freshmen?
They might just think that every time you go to Nebraska you win.
Well, kids, top-ranked Nebraska hadn’t lost at home in 28 matches and the defending NCAA champions had only lost four sets total in their first 12 matches this season.
No matter, because No. 19 Ohio State went into Lincoln on Saturday and came away with a victory for the third consecutive time. What’s more, the 17-25, 25-21, 25-21, 25-13 win was the first time anyone took three sets in a row off Nebraska since BYU swept the Huskers in the NCAA semifinals to end their season in 2014.
“Any win on the road is a big deal in our conference, but to beat Nebraska when they’re No. 1 in the country is huge for our group because we’ve been grinding a little bit,” said Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston, up early on Sunday because his 3-year-old and a 1-year-old don’t care that Daddy’s team knocked off No. 1.
They probably don’t even know that one of Ohio State’s key players, sophomore outside Audra Appold, missed her second straight match with an injury. Appold, a six-rotation player, averages 3.37 kills per set and 2.37 digs.
Carlston moved freshman Brooke Bailey from right side to outside and inserted junior Ashley Wenz at right side. It worked, because it left his Buckeyes 12-4 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten, while Nebraska dropped to 12-1, 3-1.
“It’s such a cool environment to play in and for whatever reason, our group has had some success there,” Carlston said.
Nebraska coach John Cook, who hadn’t dealt with a loss since the Huskers fell to Wisconsin in Lincoln last October 24, claimed his team hasn’t had a good practice in a couple of weeks.
“I don’t know why we didn’t fight harder. It was a poor effort across the whole part of Nebraska volleyball. You’ve got to give Ohio State a lot of credit,” Cook said.
“They came in here and competed really hard. They didn’t have one of their best players and I think they had two freshmen out there. It’s pretty disappointing. We didn’t do anything well tonight and the way we started off and I think it sent a message to Ohio State that was, ‘Hey, we’re not into this.’ Even though we won the first game.”
That didn’t faze Carlston.
“I thought if we could go to the locker room 1-1, the pressure always moves over to the home team and Nebraska has gone so long without losing,” Carlston said.
And then he laughed.
“After the first set, I thought it’s a pretty daunting place to play your first match at and we had two of those kids really had to learn by fire. Our leadership allowed them to settle in and then it became a battle and it was fun to be a part of.”
Junior outside Luisa Schirmer led Ohio State with 16 kills. She hit .270 and had 12 digs and three block assists. Senior All-American middle Taylor Sandbothe added 12 kills and hit .346, freshman Madison Smeathers had seven kills and freshman Camry Halm led with 14 digs.
Bailey had five kills and Wenz four.
And sophomore setter Taylor Hughes was everywhere, not only coming up 11 kills, but eight digs and three block assists.
“I can’t remember when a setter got 11 kills against us,” Cook said. “Maybe (Lauren) Carlini three years ago at Wisconsin.”
“Taylor Hughes is one of the best setters in the country,” Carlston said. “That kid last night changed everything about that match in the second set when she started dumping the ball. The deception and just how she played last night was just a pleasure to watch.
“She’s one of the most underrated players in the country. As a sophomore setter, she’s a stud.”
Ohio State had four service aces and 13 errors. Nebraska had three aces and 12 errors. The Buckeyes held a 62-53 digs advantage.
“We knew if we could win the serve-and-pass game we would give ourselves a shot,” Carlston said. “We had four freshmen starting, Audra is out indefinitely, so we knew we had to be super aggressive and super steady with everything we were doing.
“I’m so proud of our staff and our team for how steady we were able to play.”
Nebraska’s Kadie Rolfzen had 13 kills and six digs. Amber Rolfzen had eight kills, seven blocks and five digs. Kelly Hunter had 36 assists, five blocks and five digs. Justine Wong-Orantes had 18 digs, passing Jennifer Saleaumua for the second-most in NU career history with 1,578. She now trails only Kayla Banwarth’s 1,706 career digs.
Nuggets from Cook’s postgame news conference:
— “We weren’t paying attention and were blowing assignments left and right.”
— “Ohio State kept punching and we didn’t punch back.”
— “Every time we gave them an easy ball they made us pay.”
— “I thought we would win that game four, but I was shocked at what I was seeing.”
Nebraska plays host to Indiana on Friday and Purdue visits the Devaney Center next Sunday.
Ohio State, rather, barely knows what a Big Ten home match is. For that matter, the Buckeyes are 3-1 in Columbus this season, and that includes an early season tournament and last week’s sweep of visiting Northwestern.
Consider that they’ve lost at Wisconsin, lost at Minnesota and now won at Nebraska. Next Friday and Sunday they play at Michigan State and Michigan. They return home Friday, October 14, when Nebraska gets a rematch.
“The schedule is a bit of a luck of the draw, from what I hear, but for us, we knew it would be a challenge and knew it would be hard,” Carlston said.
“We looked at schedule and saw the first seven matches and went, ‘Whoa!’, we knew we’d have to survive but that we would grow a lot.
“And we knew if we could stay together and survive, we were going to be the most prepared team and by the beginning of November there won’t be a team in the country that would have gone through what this group has gone through. In the end, for us, we looked at it as an opportunity and see what we’re made of.”