Huskers open Big Ten with Penn State upset

Story by Teresa Lostroh, NewsNetNebraska

Husker volleyball coach John Cook sat down after Wednesday’s five-set match against Penn State with a simple message: “Welcome to the Big Ten.”

His 10th-ranked Huskers upset No. 5 Penn State at the NU Coliseum in their first conference showing, but it took five sets and almost 2 hours and 45 minutes to do it.

Neither team managed to put together a run longer than four straight points.

When Nebraska seemed to have the game wrapped up after dominating the first two sets, Penn State awoke in the third and pushed the match to five.

That kind of back-and-forth, drawn-out battle is what Cook expects all season in one of the country’s toughest volleyball conferences.

Seven Big Ten teams are rated in the top 25. Illinois is ranked the highest at No. 3. The Huskers meet the Fighting Illini on Oct. 22 at the Coliseum.

“This (win) doesn’t mean we’re a great team and we’re going to sweep the Big Ten,” Cook cautioned. “It just means we found a way tonight to take another step forward. I’ve been telling them all week, these matches define what kind of team you are going to be because we’re going to get tested. We were tested to the max tonight.”

Behind 13 kills from junior outside hitter Gina Mancuso, the Huskers won the first two sets in convincing fashion (25-18, 25-16), leaving the impression they might sweep the four-time defending national champions, who beat Nebraska at the national semifinals in 2008.

But an upset of that magnitude doesn’t come easy.

Penn State rallied back from an early third-set deficit to win 25-23, and sophomore middle hitter Ariel Scott led the Nittany Lions to a 24-19 win in the fourth.

But with a booming hometown crowd of 4,186 on its feet, the Huskers played a nearly flawless final set and pulled off the upset 15-10.

“I’m gonna have to give some credit to the crowd,” said junior setter Lauren Cook. “The crowd was literally roaring.”

“I can’t remember the last time the Coliseum was that loud,” John Cook said. “The floor was shaking.”

Lauren Cook racked up 53 assists, 17 digs and two blocks, one of which helped Nebraska pull away late in the final set.

Mancuso led the Husker hitters with 22 kills.

“We beat Goliath tonight,” Mancuso said. Penn State (7-4) has won the past eight Big Ten titles.
Yet Nittany Lions coach Russ Rose earlier this year predicted Nebraska (8-1) would snap that streak in 2011.

NU will need strong play from Mancuso, Cook and the home crowd if it wants to wear this year’s conference crown.

The Huskers take on No. 24 Ohio State, No. 13 Purdue, No. 3 Illinois, No. 18 Michigan and No. 9 Minnesota at the Coliseum this season.

Cook said the team will savor Wednesday’s big win but quickly get back to work. Nebraska hosts Ohio State on Saturday.

But “what a great way to start out in the Big Ten,” he said.

For full stats from Wednesday’s game, visit Huskers.com.

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