CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Illinois turned up the heat on No. 3 Nebraska on Friday night, but the Huskers remained cool to win their first Big Ten road test.
In a hot gym with little moving air, NU rallied to defeat No. 20 Illinois 25-22, 25-27, 26-28, 25-22, 15-10.
The Huskers prepared for the warm environment by shutting off the air conditioner during practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it didn’t match what they experienced in Huff Hall.
“I’m glad it’s over,” NU coach John Cook said in his postgame radio show. “They were really resilient tonight in a really hot gym, which we are not used to. ... We simulated the heat, but not this heat. I didn’t know it would be this hot. This is the hottest I’ve ever been in here.”
The Huskers (9-1) won their conference opener for the seventh straight year, while Illinois saw its 13-match Big Ten winning streak snapped.
NU dominated the first set as it overcame five service errors and three Illinois aces by hitting .321. Illinois finished with a negative hitting percentage with nine kills and 10 errors.
Eventually, Illinois got on track and sharpened up its attack. Even though it took extra points each time, the Illini (5-5) claimed the next two sets.
In the fourth set, Cook switched up his lineup and substituted Hayley Densberger (back row) and Capri Davis (front row) for Lexi Sun.
“I was trying to find a couple of points here and there,” Cook said. “Lexi started struggling a little bit, so I got Hayley in there and she got an ace to win the fourth game and made some nice plays in the back row. ”
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Sun responded when she returned to the court in the fifth set with three kills. The Huskers scored the first three points in the final set and never trailed the rest of the way. Freshman Madi Kubik added four kills in the fifth set.
Jazz Sweet led the Huskers with a career-best 17 kills on a .333 hitting percentage. NU finished with a balanced attack as six players recorded at least eight kills.
Setter Nicklin Hames finished with a double-double with 58 assists and 11 digs. Cook said Hames distributed the ball well.
“She started off just OK, but, man, she was money down the stretch,” Cook said. “That kid competes and she made some great sets down the stretch.”
Freshman Kenzie Knuckles returned to action after missing the last game with an injury and led NU with a match-best 21 digs. Callie Schwarzenbach finished with eight blocks to go with eight kills on just 12 swings.
Nebraska is back in action Saturday at Northwestern. However, the Huskers’ travel plans changed just before the match as storms rolled into the area. NU will stay in Champaign before flying to Chicago on Saturday.
Cook said director of operations Lindsay Peterson spent most of the match trying to secure hotel rooms for the team. Even with the change of routine, Cook said they will need to recover quickly after playing in a draining match.
“We have to recover and hydrate tonight. These guys lost a lot of fluids,” Cook said. “Fortunately it’s a short flight. We didn’t want to mess around tonight. There are big storms and we could have been sitting at the airport all night.”