Huskers Headed to a Third Straight Final Four
LEXINGTON, Ky. – The No. 5 Nebraska volleyball team earned a third straight trip to the NCAA Semifinals with a 3-1 (25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 25-22) win on the home court of fourth-seeded Kentucky in the NCAA Lexington Regional Final on Saturday.
Playing in front of a crowd of 4,464 at Memorial Coliseum, the Huskers handed the host Wildcats (29-4) their second home loss of the season. Nebraska (30-4) improved to 5-0 against AVCA top-10 teams this season and reached 30 wins for the third straight season and 11th time in head coach John Cook’s 18 seasons at Nebraska.
The Huskers will make their third straight Final Four appearance for the first time in program history. Nebraska will play in the Final Four next Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The Huskers will play top-seeded Penn State at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased now at NCAA.com/tickets.
Four Huskers finished in double-digit kills, led by Mikaela Foecke with 18 kills and eight digs on .375 hitting. Annika Albrecht had 14 kills and 11 digs. Briana Holman had 11 kills and six blocks, and Jazz Sweet had 11 kills and four blocks, including a key solo block late in the fourth set.
Kelly Hunter had 46 assists and 11 digs and guided the Huskers to a .271 hitting percentage. Kenzie Maloney had a team-high 13 digs and served two aces, as Nebraska won the serving battle by a significant margin with five aces and eight errors compared to one ace and 12 errors for Kentucky.
Leah Edmond led the Wildcats with 20 kills.
Set 1: Foecke blasted kills on her first three swings and Maloney served back-to-back aces for a 5-1 start. A kill by Holman and a Kentucky hitting error made it 9-4 Huskers. Kentucky cut it to 10-7, but Nebraska went on a 4-0 run to go ahead 14-7, keyed by a kill and ace by Albrecht and kills by Foecke and Hunter. Stivrins and Foecke terminated as part of another 3-0 spurt that put NU ahead 17-8. Then Stivrins and Albrecht teamed up for a block, and Sweet posted a kill for a 22-14 lead. Kentucky pulled within 22-17, but a pair of net violations gave NU set point, which NU finished off at 25-19. NU had four more kills in the set (16-12) and served three aces with no errors, while Kentucky served no aces with two errors.
Set 2: Nebraska scored six of seven points with Sweet terminating twice and combining with Holman for a block that made the score 7-3. Kentucky clawed back to within 11-10 with a 5-2 spurt, but Foecke answered with back-to-back kills to restore a three-point margin. Albrecht took the Huskers to a 15-11 lead at the media timeout with her sixth kill. Nebraska's defense at the net caused Kentucky fits, and a pair of blocks increased the Husker lead to 19-13. Stivrins tacked on a kill and a block with Foecke, which forced a Kentucky timeout with the Huskers on top 22-16. Kentucky cut it to 23-20 with three straight points, but Holman pounded a kill from the right side for set point. The Wildcats got a kill and a block to make it 24-22 and force a Husker timeout, but Holman clinched the set on the next rally with a kill for a 25-22 win. Nebraska hit .326 in the second frame.
Set 3: Kentucky got off to a better start in the third set and claimed a 7-3 lead. Holman got a sideout for the Huskers, and the teams traded sideouts for 12 rallies until a block by Kentucky gave the Wildcats a 14-9 advantage. Nebraska trailed 17-13 when Stivrins and Foecke stuffed a Kentucky shot, and Albrecht added a kill to cut it to 17-15. After Kentucky got a sideout, Holman did the same for NU, and Foecke tooled the block to pull the Big Red within 18-17. A tough serve from Hunter caused an overpass, which Holman hammered down to tie the set at 18-18. Holman produced another kill to give NU its first lead of the set at 19-18. After a Kentucky timeout, the Huskers continued their onslaught with an ace by Hunter and a UK hitting error that made it 21-18, capping a 6-0 run. Kentucky scored the next two to reduce the lead to one, 21-20, but another hitting error by the Wildcats gave NU a 22-20 edge. Holman and Albrecht stuffed a Kentucky attack to make it 23-21, but Kentucky answered with a kill. Sweet terminated to gain match point at 24-22. But the Wildcats gained momentum by fighting off two match points to level the score at 24-24. After a Husker timeout, Hunter executed a dump perfectly for another match point, which Kentucky responded to with a kill. The Wildcats then earned match point of their own at 26-25 after a Husker attacking error. A block by Brooke Morgan gave Kentucky the 27-25 win.
Set 4: Foecke and Holman each posted a kill and went in together on a block, and Hunter served an ace as the Huskers rebounded from their first dropped set of the tournament to take a 5-1 lead. After Kentucky got within 9-8, Stivrins and Hunter recorded NU's 10th block of the match for a 10-8 lead. A quick set to Stivrins had the Huskers ahead 15-13 at the media timeout. Foecke tallied her 17th kill for a 17-14 lead. Edmond answered with two kills for Kentucky to cut it to 17-16, and NU took a timeout. The Wildcats drew even at 18-18, but Holman came up big with her 11th kill. Foecke smashed another kill before Holman and Sweet blocked an attack to give NU a 21-19 edge. After a Kentucky sideout, Albrecht smacked a kill and Sweet notched a solo block for a 23-20 Husker lead. After a service error, Sweet terminated for match point at 24-21. The match ended when Kentucky served its 12th error of the night.
Nebraska Post-Match Notes
- Nebraska (30-4) advanced to the NCAA Semifinals for a third straight year for the first time in program history. The Huskers were National Champions in 2015 in Omaha and reached the 2016 NCAA Semifinals in Columbus, Ohio.
- The Huskers will be making their 14th NCAA Semifinals appearance all-time, second-most in NCAA history.
- John Cook is taking Nebraska to the NCAA Semifinals for the eighth time in his 18 seasons.
- Cook improved to 64-14 in NCAA Tournament play as Nebraska’s head coach.
- Nebraska improved to 14-13 all-time in NCAA Regional Finals.
- The Huskers improved to 5-0 this season against AVCA top-10 opponents, equaling the number of top-10 wins from each of the past two seasons.
- Nebraska improved to 8-2 all-time against Kentucky and has won the last seven meetings in the series.
- Nebraska reached 30 wins in a season for the third straight year and has now achieved at least 30 wins in 11 of Cook’s 18 seasons as head coach.
- Kelly Hunter had 46 assists in the match, and with her fifth assist in set one she reached 4,000 career assists at Nebraska. She ranks second in school history behind Fiona Nepo (4,824) with 4,041 career assists.
- Mikaela Foecke was named the most outstanding player of the regional after her 18 kills and eight digs against Kentucky. Kelly Hunter and Annika Albrecht were also on the all-regional team.
- The 2017 NCAA Championships will be played at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. Tickets can be purchased now at NCAA.com/tickets. The semifinals will be played on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 6 and 8 p.m. Nebraska and Penn State will meet in the first semifinal, and Stanford and Florida will play in the second semifinal. The final is set for Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m.