The Boilermaker bench danced along as the volleyball team upset the No. 5 Nebraska Cornhuskers, 3-2, ending a seven-match streak of Cornhusker dominance.
"I think you have to be who you are," head coach Dave Shondell said about the team's apparent loose and carefree attitude. "Teams have to form their own personalities, and if that's what they were doing, rock on."
"You want your people involved," he said. "This is all about a team, this is not about individuals, so if they're doing that, I think that's great."
The Boilers' confident attitude, though, did nothing to illustrate the nail-biting tension felt throughout the match.
Offensively, the combined efforts of sophomore outside hitter Grace Cleveland and junior outside hitter Caitlyn Newton went relatively uncontested for most of the match, with the Cornhuskers recording only three blocks. The pair landed 13 and 17 kills respectively.
"I trust them completely to take the game in their hands, and I think they've done that a lot this year," senior middle blocker Blake Mohler said.
Mohler, who struggled mid-season due to nagging injuries, recorded 11 kills and nine blocks at the net.
"It was really the first time Mohler has been healthy all year," Shondell said. "Playing the best she's looked all season, for her to finally start feeling both emotionally and physically good is another good confidence boost."
The first set featured a 5-point serving streak from junior defensive specialist Jena Otec, stretching the set lead to 17-8 favoring the Boilermakers (13-5, 5-4 Big Ten). The Cornhuskers (16-2, 8-1 Big Ten) topped that streak though, going on a 6-point run before eventually winning the first set, 25-23.
The Cornhusker offense was lead by junior outside hitter Lexi Sun, who recorded 18 kills in the match. She was contested heavily by senior middle blocker Shavona Cuttino, who picked up six blocks after having her season best against Iowa yesterday.
"Our goal in the beginning of the game was to slow her down and to make sure she didn't get off to a great start," Cuttino said.
Eerily reminiscent of the first, the second set saw a comeback from the Cornhuskers after being down by as much as 5. This time, though, the Boilermakers refused to go down, winning the second set 25-20. Freshman outside hitter Emma Ellis had four kills in this set after a slow start in the first.
"It slipped through our fingers," Cuttino said on the first set. "We wanted to come out strong and take that back."
The set ended somewhat controversially. After a considerably long volley featuring diving saves from both side of the net, Nebraska head coach John Cook unsuccessfully challenged the Boilermakers' 24th point. Immediately after, a kill from Cleveland ended the set.
"We just really focused on coming together every single point," Mohler said. "They will take advantage of our mistakes, and we can't let them get win those runs. We just focused on getting one point at a time."
Sophomore libero Marissa Hornung, playing in a spot usually filled by Otec, put up a strong defensive effort with 25 digs.
The Huskers continued to give the Boilermakers trouble in the third set, but Mohler and Cuttino continued to shut them down at the net, winning the third set 25-17.
Nebraska began the fourth set leading 15-11 over the Boilermakers, the first time all day it led within the first 10 points being scored. Sun landed three kills against the Boilermaker defense, matched by three more kills from Nebraska freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik.
The Boilermakers fought hard to come back, bringing the score within one point: 20-19 before falling 25-20.
The Boilermakers came out with ice in their veins in the final set, scoring six straight points against the Cornhuskers, energized further by the sold-out crowd in Holloway Gymnasium. The Boilermakers ultimately won the set 15-8, winning the match.
"Pure satisfaction," Mohler said after the win. "Especially in front of our home court."
Nebraska being a team that has come back from deficits in the past, the Boilermakers were hard-pressed to keep them down for the count.
"There are a lot of teams in our conference like that, that can bounce back on you," Shondell said. "But the message that we've been trying to share is that we feel like we're one of those teams. It's not like we're an also-ran."
The Boilermakers will look to carry this momentum into their next match against Indiana University at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Holloway Gymnasium.