Nebraska’s upset of the top-ranked volleyball team in the country had been over 15 minutes Sunday, and yet the scene at the NU Coliseum was still really something.
Hundreds of the 4,193 fans that witnessed the fourth-ranked Huskers’ 12-25, 32-30, 19-25, 25-23, 15-10 victory against Penn State still lingered..
Many of them were on the court getting autographs from the NU players. Others were in the bleachers, still trying to slow their heart rate from the roller coaster of emotion the 2½-hour match provided, and trying to comprehend how Nebraska had turned around the match after getting thumped in the first set.
Then, home-state seniors Gina Mancuso and Lauren Cook made their way through the crowd and climbed the bleachers on their way to the post-match interview room. The fans kept calling out their names.
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“That was one of the coolest things that’s happened to me here,” Cook said later.
“Literally, as we walked into the hallway, I was like, ‘That was really a special moment. That’s up there,’” Mancuso said. “The game was over and the fans were still showing their love. It’s just a really special feeling to know people care so much about you and are supporting you.”
Nebraska has hosted the No. 1 team in the country three times over the past two seasons, and won all three matches.
Penn State blew Nebraska out in the first set, but then one heck of a volleyball match broke out. Penn State finished with 74 kills and Nebraska 63. Nebraska had 94 digs and Penn State 90.
Nebraska won the second and fourth sets each by two points. The Huskers started slow in each set, but kept it close in the deciding fifth. A block by freshman Meghan Haggerty put Nebraska up 7-6, and the Huskers never trailed again.
The Huskers held Penn State off with kills by Morgan Broekhuis, Mancuso and Haggerty. Ariel Scott had a kill for Penn State to make it 14-10. On the next point, Maddie Martin’s serve sailed long and Nebraska had won.
Mancuso led Nebraska with 16 kills, Broekhuis had 13, Haggerty 12 and Hannah Werth 11. Lauren Cook had 52 assists and had to work extra hard to find ways for Nebraska to get past the Nittany Lions’ imposing blockers. Werth also led her team with 27 digs.
“We didn’t play great; we had some kids struggle, but they found a way and they stayed with it and they started playing for each other,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I’m just so happy for our team for staying with it and believing and fighting.
“You need big players to make big plays, and in Game 5 Hannah got three kills, Gina got a couple huge kills, (Lara Dykstra) served three really tough balls that got us a run and Haggerty had a huge kill for us that I thought really clinched it for us at the end of Game 5. Those kids stepped up. They made some big plays.”
As the match went on, Nebraska’s blockers were able to get a hand on more Penn State attacks, and sometimes that was enough to allow the Huskers to get a dig.
Junior outside hitter Deja McClendon led Penn State with 20 kills. Scott added 19, freshman Megan Courtney had 11 and Katie Slay notched 10.
In the fifth set, though, McClendon only had one kill on seven attempts.
“I thought we played good for about 2½ games,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “And then I thought a couple kids wore down and when it was time to step up and be a big-time player, they weren’t there to do that.
“(Nebraska) won the two deuce sets that mattered. It’s great to be at home and they play hard and they have seniors on the floor that have been in big matches. I’m sure their feelings were hurt because Ohio State pinned a loss on them (on Friday). That’s how it is. You’ve got to be ready to go, or you go home.”
Micha Hancock collected 61 assists, 13 digs and a career-high eight blocks, Dominique led with a career-high 29 digs, McClendon added 19 and Courtney had 10. Slay also had seven blocks as the Lions held a 14-11 blocking advantage and hit .237 to the Huskers' .171.
Penn State (21-2) had won 15 straight matches and was 11-0 in Big Ten play. Penn State now holds a one-match lead on Nebraska in the standings with eight matches remaining.
Nebraska (18-3, 10-2) was able to use its balanced group of attackers and role players well enough to take down one of the most talented teams in the country.
John Cook sometimes gauges the talent of a team by how many players could go on to play international and professional volleyball. Penn State has several such players.
“You look at Scott, (6-foot-6 middle hitter Katie Slay) — how many kids to you see like that — Deja was MVP of the Final Four her freshman year, (setter Micha Hancock) is a really good athlete,” Cook said. “Those are some big-time players there.”
The Huskers’ funk from their loss to Ohio State carried into Sunday’s first set.
But midway through the second set, the crowd was as into a match as it has been for a sustained period all season, and the players fed off it to win NU’s longest set of the season. The set, which had three set points for the Nittany Lions, finally ended when McClendon was blocked by Broekhuis and Mancuso for a 32-30 win.