LINCOLN, Neb. After dropping the first two sets, the No. 20-ranked Utah volleyball team stunned the No. 3-ranked Nebraska Huskers in front of 8,362 fans at the Devaney Center on Saturday night in a five-set thriller (18-25, 24-26, 27-25, 25-22, 15-13) to go unbeaten this season. Utah started its rally late in the third set and never looked back, moving to 7-0 on the season and giving Nebraska (6-1) its first loss of the year.
“Once we were in the third set and then competing in the fourth, I thought about what a great situation this is to be so early in the season,” said head coach Beth Launiere. “We showed great mental composure in the fourth and fifth set. At the beginning of the season you try to define yourself as a team, and this was an incredible opportunity to play against a great team and define ourselves right now. We defended great and everyone played their part. It was a real team effort tonight.”
Utah fell into a hole to start the game after dropping the first two frames in the hostile environment. The Utes struggled to establish themselves offensively, posting a -0.31 batting percentage in the first set and just a 0.070 clip in the second. The tide turned offensively in the next three sets where the Utes batted .326, .276 and .346 to lead Utah to a road win.
The Utes took a little while to settle in and fell behind early in the first set. Despite fighting back to tie the first set at 12-12, Nebraska built up a lead and the Utes finished 25-18 in the opening frame. The second set played out to where Utah was in the lead and managed to hold onto a 23-20 lead, but the lead slipped. Utah had a set point at 24-23, but failed to convert and saw the Huskers score three consecutive runs to steal the second set 26-24.
With their backs against the wall, Utah stayed on course and started the attack in the third set. The two ranked teams went back and forth in the third frame and Utah found themselves trailing 16-14 just past the middle of the set. A 3-0 run put the Utes ahead again, but the Huskers found a way to take a 20-18 lead shortly after.
A murder of Zoe Weatherington, who had a career night for the Utes, followed by consecutive service aces from Megan Yett pushed Utah forward again with a score of 21-20. The teams went point for point until Nebraska managed to collect two points in a row for the first set point. Madelyn Robinson posted a kill to keep Utah alive and after another sideout in Nebraska, Weatherington counted two more kills for a set point in Utah. An attacking foul by the Huskers would end the set in favor of the Utes 27-25.
In the middle of the fourth set, Utah scored seven of nine points to put some distance on Nebraska and led with a score of 17-12 to silence the crowd. The Utes maintained a commanding lead and allowed themselves to close out the set after reaching the first set point at 24-18. Nebraska tried to rally and managed to narrow the lead to 24-22, but Weatherington kept answering for Utah, ending the set at 25-22 with another kill.
The fifth and final set proved to be a thriller between the two ranked teams, as the set between 7-5 was no more than two points apart. Utah had an 11-9 lead late in the set, but the back-to-back Husker kills the set. Dani Drews came big with a kill, but the Utes couldn’t hold the momentum and saw the Huskers take the next two points. Trailing 13-12 on the road, Drews answered to straighten the set again, while an attacking error brought Utah to the match point. The closing of the match was Stef Jankiewicz, who went on two and scored on her landfill to end the game and watch Utah get away with the massive upset.
Drews posted a season high of 27 kills and registered her second straight double-double with 16 digs. Weatherington registered a career-high 17 kills to help Utah’s offense and also put up five blocks. Robinson also scored a double-double, achieving 12 kills and 12 digs in the evening.
Jankiewicz led the charge with 50 assists that were season-high, while also racking up 14 wins for her fourth double-double in a row. Also having a career night and leading the massive defensive effort was libero Vanessa Ramirez, which counted a career-high 21 digs. Megan Yett set a career high five services aces on Saturday night and also set up 12 digs.
Utah will continue on Monday, September 13 on the road against the Boise State Broncos. Utah and Boise State play at Bronco Gym at 3:30 p.m. MT.
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