On Oct. 5, a red-hot Wisconsin team stormed into the Devaney Center in Lincoln and burned the Huskers with a .376 hitting percentage in a three-set sweep.
On the following Monday, head coach John Cook said he would fix the problem.
“It’s all new territory for me, but we’ll get it figured out,” Cook said. “Or I’ll either fire myself or fire my staff, either way.”
He was probably joking. In any event, it appears the Huskers have figured it out.
Since that night, the Huskers have held Michigan State to .038 in a 3-1 win, Michigan to .019 in a sweep and No. 20 Purdue to .099 in a 3-1 win.
All three hitting percentages were the lowest of the season for those teams. The Huskers lead the conference in opponent hitting percentage at .137 and the 2015 national championship team was at .172.
Last year’s NCAA runner-up team held opponents to .144, the 2017 national championship team was at .154 and
“Again, our block and defense suffocated them,” Cook said Wednesday after the win over Purdue. “We held them to .099. One hitter hit .250 and everybody else was way lower, so it was a really good defensive effort by our team.”
Cook said the loss to Wisconsin may well have been a turning point of sorts for the No. 5 Huskers.
“Wisconsin is a great team. They played really well and they humiliated us,” Cook said. “So I think our team has had a sense of urgency and focus that we don’t want to go there again.
“They have to live it every match. That’s going to be our challenge. Can we continue to do this every night throughout the Big Ten? And our next opportunity is Saturday.”
The Huskers (14-2, 6-1 in the Big Ten) play at Maryland (11-8, 3-4) at 6 p.m. Saturday in College Park, Maryland. The match can be heard on the Husker Sports Network, but there is no live television.
The Huskers controlled the first two sets Wednesday against Purdue, but the Boilermakers took advantage of some Nebraska miscues to win the third set.
“We played some good volleyball at times,” Cook said. “We let it get away from us in game three which is disappointing. We just went high error, which is disappointing, but we really responded well so that’s a big positive.
“We hit .536 in game four, so you have to be really pleased with that.”
That inconsistency comes from a lack of focus, which in turn comes from a team with no seniors on the squad.
“That’s a young team,” Cook said. “I could just sense we were a little squirrelly. We thought we had it, and then it starts going pretty fast. We started shanking balls and started making errors. You can’t lose focus in the Big Ten.”
The Huskers got a huge performance from freshman Madi Kubik who had a career-high 22 kills while hitting .314 for the match. Kubik had just six errors in 51 swings.
Cook said the Huskers didn’t intend to set Kubik that many times.
“We were in a lot of long rallies, and Madi was up there in those long rallies, taking a lot of swings,” Cook said. “You can look at game three, we had 52 attempts. That’s a lot. Look at game four, we only had 28 attempts.
“We weren’t trying to set her. We were trying to get Jazz (Sweet) more sets and Callie (Schwarzenbach).”
Kubik joins an elite group of players with that performance. The only other Husker freshman to have 22 or more kills in a match since 2005 were Sarah Pavan with 35 and Mikaela Foecke with 22.
“I’ve seen her play like that in Asia,” Cook said. “I’ve seen her play like that in practice. Finally she put a total game in with attacking and blocking. It’s a pretty good night when you can do that.”