After four challenging conference games on the road, Michigan State volleyball came home to a packed Breslin Center to face No. 3 Nebraska on its own court.
The Spartans held their own with the Cornhuskers in the first two sets, but the wheels fell off the bus in set three and MSU lost the match, 3-0.
This was MSU’s second match against Nebraska in under two weeks. The teams played each other previously on Sept. 23 in Lincoln, which Nebraska also won 3-0.
Despite the loss, Head Coach Leah Johnson said she loved the atmosphere and turnout on Thursday night, which consisted of a full, rowdy student section and support from the Michigan State football team.
“Our student section was phenomenal,” Johnson said. “From the beginning I could tell it was a totally different experience for our opponent. Walking in here, it felt bigger, it felt grander. It felt rowdier even. I mean it was a pretty great crowd, so I was fired up.”
Nebraska came out with a 2-0 run to start the match, until sophomore outside hitter Aliyah Moore scored the first for MSU and put the Spartans on the board at 3-1, Nebraska.
MSU’s leading scorers for set one were Moore with four kills, freshman middle back Nil Okur with three kills, freshman defensive specialist Jayhlin Swain with three aces and freshman outside hitter Evie Doezema with two kills.
Two back-to-back aces from Swain toward the end of the set forced Nebraska to take a time out, as MSU trailed the Cornhuskers by four, 20-16.
The Spartans attempted to come back toward the end of set one, taking one more point after Nebraska's match point, but after a service error by freshman outside hitter Maradith O’Gorman, Nebraska won set one, 25-18.
The Spartans shined in set two, holding their own with the third best team in the country throughout the duration, but were ultimately unable to come out on top. Nebraska took the set 25-23.
O’Gorman had a whopping five kills in set two, four of which were back-to-back, and one ace, while Moore and Bishop had two kills each.
MSU and Nebraska fought for control as the set was tied at 5-5, but Nebraska started pulling away with the lead following a few mistakes from MSU.
Both teams were neck and neck for the remainder of the set, as the lead bounced back and forth.
Just when it seemed as though Nebraska pulled away with the lead at the end of the second set, the Spartans answered with three points in a row to trail by one, 23-22. Despite MSU's comeback efforts, the Spartans lost set two, 25-23.
Nebraska came into set three with an edge putting up three points right out of the gate.
MSU’s momentum from the first two sets did not carry over into the third. Nebraska dominated MSU on the court from the get-go and the Spartans could not keep up.
The Cornhuskers won the set 25-9, before MSU even had the chance to reach double digits.
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Although its performance in set three was not what MSU hoped for, Bishop led the team with two kills, while Moore and sophomore middle back Aubrey O’Gorman had one each.
One silver lining of the set for the Spartans was senior setter Zoe Nunez returned to the court for the first time since suffering a knee injury during the Green and White Classic tournament last month.
“(Nunez) immediately came in and served tough, got an assist right out of the gate with the middle, so I think we'll start to see more of her,” Johnson said.
At the end of the night, MSU walked away with 29 digs, 26 kills, 24 assists, 7 blocks and 5 aces.
Johnson said she was proud of the way her team played in the first two sets, but set three was “a disappointment all the way around.”
“To me, that’s the set you just canceled,” Johnson said. “You don't spend much time worrying about that because it was like all things that could go wrong would.”
Even though the results of set three were not what she hoped for, Johnson said she is optimistic by the way MSU played the first part of the game.
“When you look at sets one and two, we were effectively in control of set two, put a run together there at the end and we stayed tough,” Johnson said. “We fought hard and we kept working hard. This is a team that has to go through these moments, and so it doesn't scare me at all.”
Even with the loss, Johnson said MSU was more prepared to take on Nebraska the second time around, having already faced the team last month.
“I think we came out sharper and put more pressure on them right away, and I don't think that's just being at home,” Johnson said. “I think we were a better team in sets one and two, than we were the first time around. Set three I think was kind of an anomaly – anything that could go wrong will go wrong … It sucks, but I can't spend time thinking about them after a set like that.”
The Spartans will head back to the Breslin to take on Minnesota, Sunday at 2 p.m.
Johnson said the team needs to improve on scoring ahead of Sunday’s matchup with the Golden Gophers.
“We got to figure out a couple of different areas where to score,” Johnson said. “We're a little soft in getting points in a couple positions that I have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to help them earn points or make a change.”
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