In their first weekend of play in over one year, IU volleyball fell in three straight sets two nights in a row to No. 5 Nebraska. The Hoosiers finished the weekend with a combined hitting percentage of .188 and a total of 57 kills.
IU got off to an impressive start Friday night in the first two sets. The Hoosiers kept the score close and looked like a seasoned, competitive team, despite losing 22-25 and 20-25. Their energy dropped off slightly in the third set, with IU trailing 8-16 at one point. IU lost the final set 17-25.
“I would say we competed well in the first two games and then kind of got young and made some errors in the third,” head coach Steve Aird said.
The Hoosiers began their Friday night with four freshmen on the court, all of whom performed well in their Big Ten debuts. Outside hitters Tommi Stockham and Morgan Geddes led the team in kills. Stockham recorded nine kills — four coming in the first set — followed by Geddes with eight. Stockham was also a contributor in the back court with a total of five digs.
“I looked around and it was Haley and everyone else was a freshman,” senior setter Brooke Westbeld said. “But it didn’t feel that way. They’re handling themselves beautifully.”
Blocks from freshmen Leyla Blackwell and Savannah Kjolhede came at key times to stop Nebraska rallies and earn significant points late in sets. In the second set, Kjolhede produced back-to-back service aces to put a halt to Nebraska’s momentum.
IU still struggled defensively Friday night, especially when faced with a tough rotation featuring Nebraska outside hitter Lexi Sun serving. The Hoosiers had seven service reception errors on the night and were often thrown off by off-speed hits and tips by Nebraska.
Saturday night began with a bang, literally, as IU got a block in the first play of the first set. Outside hitter Grae Gosnell joined the lineup, making her the fifth freshman to play in the first set. While IU failed to gain a lead, falling 21-25, they kept the score close and maintained strong energy throughout.
However, the second set saw an IU loss of 16-25. There was a notable decrease in the Hoosiers’ energy, and the Cornhuskers consistently led by 4 to 6 points.
“We took our foot off the gas a little bit,” Westbeld said.
In the third set, Nebraska went on a 6-0 run before IU regained momentum with a kill by junior Breana Edwards. They went on to lose 19-25, but the Hoosiers made up lost ground with multiple scoring runs led by Stockham and Edwards.
Edwards had an impressive outing on Saturday, increasing her kills total from two to 12, leading both teams for number of kills in a match during the weekend. Edwards also hit .194 on the night, second only to Stockham with .214.
“I think she’s at times one of the top outsides in the conference,” Aird said of Edwards. “She’s earned my respect. I feel really good about where she’s at.”
The Hoosiers improved defensively over the course of the two matches. With 39 digs Saturday compared to 20 on Friday and a decrease in serve-receive errors, they made Nebraska’s offense, who put down 1641 kills in the 2019 season, struggle at times.
“I was really thrilled with how we played defensively,” Aird said. “I still don’t think we’re anywhere close to where we need to be, but a huge difference between last and this night just with our commitment to run down balls and dig balls.”
Indiana travels to Rutgers next weekend, and while the Scarlet Knights are unranked, the Hoosiers will be going into the matches with the same level of grit and determination they did this weekend.
“We have to be a heck of a lot better to have success next weekend,” Aird said. “Anyone in the conference can beat you.”