Huskers Win First Night of Players Challenge

Christina Houghtelling tied her career high with 17 kills and All-American Sarah Pavan produced Nebraska's first triple-double since the 2002 season to help No. 1 Nebraska power past Pepperdine, 30-24, 30-26, 28-30, 30-19, in the Huskers' opening-match of the three-day Players Challenge at the NU Coliseum Friday evening.

Playing in the Huskers' home opener in front of 4,174 fans in the 57th consecutive sellout at the NU Coliseum, Pavan produced her first career triple-double with 11 kills, 11 blocks and a season-high 10 digs. Pavan helped the Huskers improve to 6-0 on the year and extend their home winning streak to 16 matches dating back to last season.

The 6-5 sophomore from Kitchener, Ontario, who owns two other double-doubles in her Nebraska career, nearly eclipsed her career high of 12 blocks, set last week in a sweep of No. 12 Ohio State.

Houghtelling reached double figures in kills for the fifth time in six matches, finishing with 17 kills on .364 hitting. The 17 kills were a season best for the outside hitter from Cambridge, Neb., as she matched her career best of 17 set at Missouri last November.

All-American Melissa Elmer also chipped in a double-double, establishing season bests in both kills (12) and blocks (13) while hitting .375. All-American Jennifer Saleaumua finished with nine kills, a match-high 20 digs and four blocks. With her 13 blocks, Elmer took possession of second place on NU's block assists list, passing Stephanie Thater, who had 502 block assists from 1989 to 1992.

The Waves battled throughout the match, becoming the first team to take a game off the Huskers at home since last Sept. 10, snapping a streak of 15 straight home sweeps. Julie Rubenstein was one of three Waves to finish in double figures in kills with a match-high 18 kills, as the Waves dipped to 2-2 on the season.

Despite the win, Nebraska Coach John Cook said that he the Huskers had room for improvement.

"It all started with the warm ups. We weren't ready tonight," Cook said. "Pepperdine did a nice job. They make you have to beat them and don't make a lot of errors."

Houghtelling came out firing in game one, leading the Huskers to a 30-24 victory. The junior ripped seven kills in nine swings, as NU out-hit the Waves, .289-.220. Leading 12-11, Houghtelling triggered four straight Husker points, as NU extended its lead to 16-11. Pepperdine closed to within 19-16, but Nebraska used a 6-2 spurt to put the game out of reach.

Game two was a back and forth battle, as the teams traded the lead 11 times before the Huskers pulled out a 30-26 victory. The Huskers led 24-17, only to see the Waves respond with seven unanswered points, tying the match at 24 on a Rubenstein block. NU regained the lead for good at 26-25 on a Pavan kill before a Dani Mancuso ace forced a Pepperdine timeout. After a Pavan kill made it 28-25, the Waves pulled within two points at 28-26, but the Huskers finished off the win moments later.

The Huskers scored the first two points of game three before falling behind nearly the rest of the game, as Pepperdine avoided the sweep with a 30-28 win. After trailing by as many as four points, NU fought back to take a 27-26 on a Saleaumua ace, but the Waves scored three unanswered points and held on for a two-point win.

The Huskers finally got untracked offensively in game four, outhitting the Waves, .400-.023 in a 30-19 rout in the finale. Saleaumua led the Husker attack with five kills, while Pavan posted five of her 11 blocks in game four. NU seized the momentum with an 8-3 run, turning a 12-11 lead into a six-point cushion and the Huskers were never threatened again.

No. 4 Penn State won the tournament opener with a 30-13, 30-15, 30-12 victory over Pacific, as Melissa Walbridge had 12 kills on .824 hitting to pace the Nittany Lions, who hit .468 as a team in the sweep. Nicole Fawcett also added a match-high 12 kills as Penn State improved to 5-1 on the season. Ashley Groothuis led Pacific with eight kills as the Tigers (4-3) were held to .000 hitting.

The tournament continues Saturday afternoon with the Huskers taking on Pacific at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. Tickets for the 2 p.m. match are still available, including $12 reserved seats, $6 general admission adult and $4 general admission youth and senior citizen seats available. University of Nebraska students can get in free to the match with a valid student ID.

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