NCAA champions twice in the past four seasons, Nebraska’s volleyball team wins wherever it goes in November.
Turns out, even if that place is Maturi Pavilion.
The sixth-ranked Huskers haven’t lost in November since the Gophers beat them three years ago — on Nov. 23, 2016, at the Pav — and hadn’t won there since November 2014.
That is, until Friday’s resilient 25-22, 25-18, 18-25, 11-25, 15-3 victory over the seventh-ranked Gophers, who welcomed back senior setter Kylie Miller from injury.
The Gophers found their rhythm in those third and fourth sets — and probably their chemistry again with Miller, who played just two matches since late September because of what the team termed a medical issue.
They were steamrolled by Nebraska in that lopsided 15-3 fifth set, perhaps the Gophers running out of energy and emotion after expending so much to draw even.
Or maybe it was simply a champion that stiffened — and dominated — when needed.
“Hard to know, right?” Gophers coach Hugh McCutcheon said afterward. “You’re battling a lot of different things. First and foremost, you spend a lot of energy to get to that fifth. It’s tempting to succumb to the expectation of how [Nebraska] will be in the moment — and how they were was the way they were the first two sets. Good for them.”
Nebraska improved to 59-3 in November and December these past five seasons and also won its seventh consecutive match since a five-set loss at Purdue nearly a month ago.
The Huskers did so by reversing course after they got thumped in the fourth set, just as the Gophers did in a less dramatic way with improved serving and passing after they were outdone by the visitors the first two sets.
Defeated by 14 points in that fourth set, Nebraska’s blocking and hitting came back alive in a fifth set it dominated.
The Gophers lost Friday for the fifth time in 25 matches this season, but they got Miller back.
“Good,” Gophers senior outside hitter Alexis Hart said of Miller’s return. “She brought a lot of energy and consistency. It was good to have her on the court.”
Without her most of these past two months, the Gophers improvised and adapted lineups and formats, often going to a 6-2 formation that presented two setters, including sophomore Bayley McMenimen, instead of one.
On Friday, McCutcheon called those first two sets a “choppy” start in which the Gophers adapted again, this time to a one-setter scheme and to the presence of both Miller and sophomore Adanna Rollins, who missed last weekend’s Michigan match.
McCutcheon was asked how much those third and fourth sets can be attributed to rediscovered chemistry.
“We don’t know, it’s hard to quantify,” he said. “This is probably the 25th lineup we’ve had over the course of the last few weeks. I thought Ky did a great job.”
With Miller and Rollins back, McCutcheon considered Friday’s match something of a new start. His team will play Iowa Saturday in “Senior Night,” the last home regular-season match.
“It’s a big deal,” he said of Miller’s return. “This team, not just tonight but through the course of the season, has gone through a lot and we’re not victims of anything, other than circumstances. The idea we were able to have everyone out there tonight was pretty great.
“I don’t think we’re perfect, but we can learn some lessons here and certainly move on to the next one.”