NU Digs Deep To Top No. 1 Penn State, Advance to NCAA Final
Kansas City, Mo. - In another epic NCAA Tournament match between Nebraska and Penn State, the Huskers survived one match point and rallied from a 2-1 deficit Thursday night to defeat the Nittany Lions in a national semifinal match at the Sprint Center in Kansas City in front of an NCAA Semifinals-record crowd of 18,374.
With the win, Nebraska advanced to Saturday night's NCAA Championship match, where the Huskers will face No. 2 seed Florida at 8 p.m. (CT) on ESPN2. Nebraska (31-4) extended its win streak to a nation-leading 18 consecutive matches, while snapping the Nittany Lions' 23-match winning streak. Penn State, the nation's top-ranked team and No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, ended its season with a 33-2 record, with both losses coming to Nebraska.
The Huskers started strong, taking the opening set 25-18. Penn State then used late rallies to win the next two sets (25-23 and 26-24) before fighting off two set points in the fourth set to earn a match point at 26-25. But the Huskers scored the final three points of the set to rally for a 28-26 win. In the fifth set, Nebraska trailed 6-4 before winning five straight points to take a 9-6 lead. Penn State would never get closer than one the rest of the way as first-team All-American Kelly Hunter closed out the win with a kill on the Huskers' second match point.
Hunter posted her fourth double-double in five NCAA Tournament matches this season, dishing out 47 assists and posting a career-high 23 digs. Mikaela Foecke recorded her first career double-double in the postseason, totaling a match-high 19 kills and a career-high 19 digs. Annika Albrecht and Briana Holman added 13 kills each, while Jazz Kill had 12 kills on .375 hitting. Lauren Stivrins added a career-high nine blocks to complement seven kills.
The Huskers hit .249 in the match, 32 points higher than Penn State. Nebraska also out-blocked the Nittany Lions 13-12 and out-dug PSU 90-76.
The win was Nebraska's first victory in three tries against Penn State in the NCAA Semifinals. The Huskers will play for their fifth national title on Saturday in their eighth NCAA Final appearance.
Set 1: Nebraska gained the early edge with a 5-2 lead thanks to two kills from Foecke, but Penn State tied the set at 5-5. A kill by Holman started a stretch of six consecutive sideouts, but Penn State got a kill by Frantti, two back-row kills by Lee and a Husker hitting error to take an 11-8 lead with a 4-0 run. After a timeout, Foecke earned sideout for the Huskers and Maloney served an ace to draw NU within 11-10. A double-stuff block by Foecke and Holman evened the score at 11-11, and Maloney served another ace before a Penn State hitting error made it 13-11 Huskers via a 5-0 run. After Penn State ended the run with a sideout, Foecke and Holman smashed back-to-back kills for a 15-12 lead. After a Penn State timeout, Holman and Sweet stuffed an attack and Holman placed a kill to the corner for a 17-12 Husker lead. Holman added her fourth kill for an 18-14 advantage, and Albrecht found the floor for the first time in the set to make it 19-15. Penn State would need to use its second timeout after the Huskers took a 21-17 lead on a Hunter kill. The timeout didn't slow the Huskers, however, as Foecke and Stivrins combined for a block to make it 22-17. Maloney served her third ace of the set, and Holman closed out the set at 25-18 with her fifth kill. The Huskers were dominant on the attack, outhitting Pen State .407 to .182. Nebraska was also the aggressor at the service line with three aces to none for the Nittany Lions.
Set 2: Penn State jumped out to a 4-0 lead with three kills and an ace. A net serve got the Huskers on the board, and Albrecht followed with a back-row kill. The Nittany Lions led 6-2 before a 3-0 Husker spurt cut the deficit to one. Nebraska drew even for the first time at 7-7, but Penn State answered with two kills to make it 9-7. An ace by Lee increased Penn State's lead to three again at 11-8, and the Nittany Lions went ahead 13-9 on a kill by Frantti and a Husker hitting error. The Huskers clawed back a kill by Foecke and a block by Hunter and Holman to get within 14-12. Albrecht and Foecke struck for back-to-back kills to cut the score to 15-14, and Foecke terminated again to keep NU within one at 16-15. The teams continued to side out until Hunter and Stivrins combined for a block to hold NU's serve and tie the set at 18-18. A solo block by Albrecht gave the Huskers their first lead of the set at 19-18 and forced a Penn State timeout. The run continued after the timeout with NU's third straight block, this one by Stivrins and Hunter to make it 20-18. The Nittany Lions scored the next three points to go back on top, 21-20, before committing a service error. Penn State reclaimed the lead but committed another service error to tie the score at 22-22. The Nittany Lions gained set point at 24-23 on a kill by Lee, and they evened the match with a 25-23 win.
Set 3: After Nebraska scored the first two points, Penn State went on a 5-0 run with three kills by Lee and a kill and a block by Washington. The Nittany Lions pushed the lead to 10-4 with a 4-0 run on Abby Detering's serve. Holman earned sideout for NU to put Maloney at the service line, and Sweet smashed three straight kills before a Penn State hitting error cut the deficit to 10-9 via a 5-0 run. Albrecht put NU in front, 12-11, with back-to-back kills. Penn State went back ahead, 13-12, but Stivrins produced a kill, Foecke terminated a long rally and Albrecht served Nebraska's fourth ace for a 15-13 lead. Penn State hit long after a timeout to extend NU's lead to three. The Huskers won a review that a serve by Hunter touched a Penn State player, a play that reversed an 18-17 lead to 19-16. After that review, Sweet tallied a kill to make it 20-16. NU led 22-18, but Penn State reeled off a 3-0 run to get within one point. NU led 23-21, but the Nittany Lions scored three in a row to gain set point at 24-23. The Huskers fought off one set point, but a Heidi Thelen kill and a Husker hitting error gave Penn State the 26-24 win.
Set 4: Penn State struck early again with a 4-0 lead. Nebraska used a timeout as Penn State went up 6-1 on a service ace. Penn State led 10-5, but Nebraska battled back. Sweet and Albrecht pounded kills to help NU get within 10-8. Hunter Atherton sparked the Huskers with back-to-back aces after a Foecke kill for a 14-13 lead. Holman stepped up for NU with a kill and a block with Foecke to make it 16-14 Big Red after an 8-2 spurt. Nebraska went up 19-15 after kills by Foecke and Sweet and an ace by Foecke. A 3-0 run by Penn State trimmed Nebraska’s lead to 21-20. Foecke swung NU to set point at 24-22, but Penn State tied it at 24-24. Penn State gained match point at 26-25, but two Nittany Lions tripped over each other on the next rally to tie the score at 26-26. Sweet regained set point for NU, and Stivrins finished it off at 28-26 with a hammer at the middle of the net.
Set 5: Penn State was first to take a two-point lead at 5-3 via a 4-1 run. Holman struck for the Huskers, and a Penn State attack error followed by Maloney's fourth ace made it 7-6 Huskers. Albrecht put NU ahead 8-6 as the teams changed sides with NU on a 4-0 run. After the break, Sweet and Stivrins extended the run to 5-0 with a stuff block that made it 9-6. Penn State responded with the next two points to pull within 9-8, but Nebraska went back ahead 11-8 on a solo stuff by Stivrins, her ninth block of the match. Albrecht hammered two more kills to boost the Huskers to a 13-9 lead. Foecke blasted her 19th kill for match point at 14-10, and Hunter won a joust at the net to clinch the match at 15-11.
Nebraska Post-Match Notes
- With the win, Nebraska (31-4) advanced to the NCAA Final for the second time in three seasons and for the eighth time in program history (third-most in NCAA history). The Huskers will go for their fifth national title on Saturday.
- John Cook has taken a Husker team to the NCAA Final for the fifth time in his 18 seasons at Nebraska, and he will go for his fourth national title on Saturday.
- Nebraska won its 18th straight match, which is the nation’s longest win streak after the Huskers snapped Penn State’s nation-leading streak at 23. Penn State finished 33-2 in 2017, with both losses coming to Nebraska. Dating back to November of 2016, Penn State is 0-3 against the Huskers and 39-0 against all other teams.
- NU also won its seventh straight match over Penn State. The Huskers’ seven-match winning streak is the longest in the history of the Nebraska-Penn State series and marks the first time in the NCAA era (since 1981) that Penn State has lost seven consecutive matches to a single opponent.
- The Huskers defeated Penn State for the first time in three tries in an NCAA Semifinal match. Overall, Nebraska improved to 8-3 against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament and 21-10 overall.
- Nebraska improved to 8-6 all-time in NCAA Semifinal matches, including a 5-3 record under John Cook. Cook moved to 65-14 overall in NCAA Tournament play as Nebraska’s head coach.
- The Huskers improved to 11-3 record against ranked opponents, including a 6-0 record vs. top-10 foes and a 3-0 mark against top-five opponents.
- John Cook improved to 6-2 at Nebraska when playing the No. 1-ranked team, including a 3-1 record against Penn State when the Nittany Lions are ranked first.
- Nebraska improved to 30-1 this season when winning the first set and moved to 2-1 in five-set matches.
- The last time Nebraska won a five-set match in the NCAA Tournament was a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Penn State in last year’s Regional Semifinal in Lincoln, and the Huskers are 4-1 in five-set matches with Penn State in the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions had two match points in the third set last year and tonight, Penn State had one match point in the fourth set.
- With the win, Kelly Hunter improved to 15-1 in her NCAA Tournament career as Nebraska’s starting setter. Her 15 postseason wins are the most by a starting setter in Husker history, as she passed Fiona Nepo (14-3) for the most.
- Hunter recorded her 500th career NCAA Tournament assist in the match. Her 527 career assists in the NCAA Tournament rank fourth in NU history, eight shy of Christy Johnson (535) for third place.
- Kelly Hunter recorded her fourth double-double of the NCAA Tournament and 16th of the season, finishing with 47 assists and a career-high 23 digs.
- Annika Albrecht appeared in her 20th NCAA Tournament match at her Nebraska, becoming just the fifth Husker to play in 20 career NCAA Tournament matches.
- Mikaela Foecke posted her eighth double-double of the season and her first career double-double in the NCAA Tournament. The junior finished with 19 kills and 19 digs.
- In four career matches at the NCAA Championships (Semifinals & Final), Mikaela Foecke has totaled 63 kills. She is hitting .320 and has averaged 15.8 kills per match and 4.2 kills per set in her four career NCAA Semifinal and Final matches.
- Kenzie Maloney had four service aces in the match. She has 12 aces in the NCAA Tournament, tying the Nebraska record for most aces in one NCAA Tournament.
- Briana Holman tied her season high with 13 kills.
- Lauren Stivrins had a career-best nine blocks.