Nebraska Loses Hard-Fought, Five-Set NCAA Final
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. - The Nebraska volleyball team fell just short of a second straight national title Saturday night, falling to No. 1 Stanford in a five-set thriller at the Target Center.
Nebraska fought off five set points before dropping the first set, 28-26. The Huskers evened the match with a 25-22 victory in set two, before Stanford grabbed a 2-1 lead with a 25-16 win in set three. But the Huskers fought back as they have done all season, handing the Cardinal its worst set loss of the season with a 25-15 victory in the fourth set. In set five, Nebraska led early and the set was tied at nine before Stanford won six of the final rallies to win its NCAA-leading eighth national title. In one of the closest final matches in NCAA history, only one point separated the two teams as Stanford outscored Nebraska 105-104 in the match.
Nebraska (29-7) finished as the NCAA runner-up for the fourth time in school history, after winning the national title in two of the last three seasons (2015 and 2017). First-team All-American Mikaela Foecke was brilliant in her final match, recording a career-high 27 kills and hitting .296. She also had 12 digs to post her fourth straight double-double. Fellow first-team All-American Lauren Stivrins was unstoppable, putting down a career-high 19 kills on only 26 swings. Stivrins hit .615 for the match, the second-highest total ever in an NCAA Final by a player with at least 20 attempts. Foecke and Stivrins were both named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team, with Foecke earning the honor for the third time in her career.
Jazz Sweet added 10 kills and five blocks for Nebraska, while Kenzie Maloney had a team-high 17 digs to pace five Huskers with double-digit digs. Nicklin Hames had a career-high 62 assists while running an efficient Husker offense.
Nebraska had nine more kills than Stanford and hit .271 to the Cardinal's .250, but Stanford had eight more digs and 2.5 more blocks than the Big Red. The Cardinal also served up nine aces, while Nebraska had just two aces with each team committing eight service errors.
Kathryn Plummer, the 2018 national player of the year an co-Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Championship, led the Cardinal with 19 kills. She shared most-outstanding-player honors with libero Morgan Hentz, who had 32 digs for Stanford. Holly Campbel (15 kills) and Audriana Fitzmorris (14 kills) also finished with double-figure kills for the Cardinal.
Stanford (34-1) finished the season with a 32-match winning streak.
Set 1: Sweet and Foecke each had a pair of early kills as the Huskers connected on five of their first seven swings to take a 6-3 lead. Foecke served an ace and the Huskers led 9-4 after a 3-0 run, as Stanford called timeout. Stanford scored five of the next seven points to cut the Huskers' lead to 11-9, and Nebraska used a timeout. Davis terminated a kill for sideout after the timeout, but a Plummer kill and a Stanford ace brought the Cardinal within 12-11. Foecke kept Nebraska in front with a kill, and Stivrins and Sweet blocked a Plummer shot before Foecke pounded another kill for a 15-11 lead. The Cardinal rallied to take a 19-18 lead with a 4-0 run keyed by back-to-back aces by Kate Formico. After a timeout, Schwarzenbach put down a kill on the slide to tie the score at 19-19, but Stanford responded with a kill and another ace, its fifth of the set, to go up 21-19. The Cardinal pulled ahead 23-20 before Foecke notched a kill. But Plummer grabbed sideout for Stanford on the next rally. The Huskers fought off three set points with a block by Sweet and Stivrins, a Stanford hitting error and a Stivrins joust, and the score was tied again 24-24. The teams traded kills to a 26-26 tie, but a Nebraska hitting error put Stanford up 27-26 before a Cardinal block gave them the 28-26 lead.
Set 2: Stivrins, Sun and Foecke sparked a 3-0 run with kills to give Nebraska an early 6-4 advantage. Sun and Schwarzenbach blocked a Stanford attack to keep NU up two, 8-6, and the teams sided out for five rallies before a pair of Husker hitting errors wide put Stanford up 11-10. Stivrins and Sun terminated kills to put Nebraska back up 13-12, and a Stanford hit wide gave Nebraska a 15-13 lead at the media timeout. Two Stanford kills tied the score at 15-15, but a service error and block by Sweet and Schwarzenbach restored a two-point lead at 17-15. Davis and Foecke killed back-to-back rallies for a 19-16 Husker lead, and Stanford called timeout. On the next rally, the Huskers scrambled defensively to save two Stanford shots, and Foecke came up with another kill to make it 20-16. A service error by the Big Red and a block by Stanford cut the margin to two, 21-19. After a timeout, Foecke smashed her 13th and 14th kills on back-to-back rallies to put Nebraska ahead 23-19. Stanford answered with a block and a kill to cut the deficit in half, but Foecke connected again for set point at 24-21. Fitzmorris found the floor for Stanford to make it 24-22, and a Stanford net violation gave the Huskers the 25-22 win and evened the match at 1-1.
Set 3: Stanford jumped out to a 7-2 lead, getting two blocks and five kills along the way. The Huskers chipped away with three kills by Foecke and one for Schwarzenbach, and a block by Schwarzenbach and Sweet got the Huskers within two, 9-7. After Davis got a kill to keep NU down two, 10-8, Stanford rattled off seven straight points in a row to go up 17-8. The Cardinal pulled ahead 20-9 before the Huskers gained a little momentum with a 3-0 run to make it 20-12. Nebraska would get as close as seven, but the Cardinal took the 25-16 win to go up 2-1. Nebraska hit just .027 in the set after hitting .302 and .326 in the first two sets.
Set 4: Sweet opened the set with back-to-back kills, and a blast by Foecke combined with two Stanford errors had the Huskers up 5-0. Stivrins powered down overpasses on back-to-back rallies, and a two-hit violation on Stanford made it 9-1 Huskers before the Cardinal used their second timeout of the set. A trio of breakdowns by the Huskers allowed Stanford within 13-7, and NU called timeout. After Stanford cut it to five, Sun produced a kill and an ace on consecutive rallies, and Sweet added a kill for a 17-9 Husker lead. Sweet added another kill, and a hustle play by Maloney to save a ball led to a kill by Stivrins to make it 19-11. Stivrins and Foecke then stuffed a Stanford attack, and the Cardinal hit long for a 21-11 Husker lead. Stivrins' 17th kill of the night pushed the Huskers to a 23-14 advantage, and her 18th kill gave NU set point at 24-15. A back-row blast by Foecke clinched the set at 25-15, forcing a game five. NU hit .412 in set four and held Stanford to .121.
Set 5: Foecke opened set five with a kill and Sweet and Schwarzenbach followed with a block. Foecke tied her career high in kills with 25 to put NU ahead 3-1, but Stanford scored the next four to take a 5-3 lead. Foecke and Stivrins tallied important sideout kills, and Stanford hit long to tie the score at 6-6. Nebraska served long, but Hames dumped a kill to keep it tied 7-7. However, Nebraska served long again, and Stanford led 8-7 as the teams switched sides. Campbell tipped a kill down for Stanford to make it 9-7 Cardinal, but Sun answered with back-to-back kills to knot the score at 9-9. Campbell tooled a block and Plummer drew a touch for a kill to make it 11-9 Stanford. Davis subbed in and earned sideout, but Campbell responded for Stanford, and Nebraska called timeout down 12-10. Gray dumped a kill and Wilson served an ace for match point at 14-10. Foecke kept NU alive with her 27th kill, and Plummer committed an attacking error to make it 14-12. But Stanford won 15-12 on a back-row kill by Meghan McClure.
Nebraska Post-Match Notes
- The loss snapped Nebraska’s 13-match winning streak, as the Huskers (29-7) finished as the NCAA runner-up for the fourth time in school history (1986, 1989, 2005, 2018).
- Nebraska fell to 5-4 all-time in the NCAA Final, including a 4-2 record under John Cook. The Huskers had been victorious in their last three NCAA Final appearances (2006, 2015, 2017) before Saturday’s loss.
- The Huskers’ school-record postseason winning streak was snapped at 11 straight victories, as Nebraska suffered its first postseason loss since a 2016 NCAA Semifinal defeat to Texas.
- Nebraska dropped to 113-32 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers’ 113 postseason victories and .779 winning percentage both rank second in NCAA history behind Stanford (125 wins, .801 winning percentage).
- John Cook fell to 72-15 in the NCAA Tournament at Nebraska. Including his seven seasons at Wisconsin, Cook is 80-19 in his NCAA Tournament career.
- Nebraska lost to the No. 1-ranked team for the first time since a 3-1 loss to top-ranked Texas in the 2013 NCAA Regional Final. The Huskers had won their last three matches against the No. 1 team, including postseason wins in two of the past three seasons (Washington in the 2015 Regional Final and Penn State in the 2017 NCAA Semifinal).
- Nebraska defeated Stanford 25-15 in the fourth set, holding the Cardinal to its lowest-scoring set of the season.
- Nebraska’s two seniors who were with the program each of the last four years – Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney – finished with a 21-2 record in their NCAA Tournament careers. Foecke and Maloney played in more postseason sets and matches and won more NCAA Tournament matches than other players in Husker history.
- Foecke and Maloney finished with a 52-3 combined record in the months of November and December.
- Foecke had a career-high 27 kills in the match on a career-high 71 swings. The 27 kills tied for the second-highest total by a player in a five-set NCAA Final. Foecke also had 11 digs, posting her fourth straight double-double.
- In her three career NCAA Finals, Foecke totaled 66 kills on .301 hitting. She had at least 19 kills in all three of her NCAA Finals matches.
- Foecke has 129 kills in her career in NCAA Semifinals/Finals matches. That total ties for third in NCAA history.
- Foecke served up nine aces in her career in NCAA Semifinals/Finals matches. That total ranks in a tie for eighth in NCAA history.
- In her overall NCAA Tournament career, Foecke totaled 309 kills and 26 aces. Her 282 postseason kills and 25 aces both rank second in Nebraska postseason history.
- Foecke finished her outstanding career with 1,684 career kills. Foecke ranks third all-time at Nebraska in kills, including second in the rally-scoring era (since 2001).
- Foecke also totaled 135 service aces in her career, the seventh-most in Nebraska history and the fourth-highest total in the rally-scoring era.
- Foecke finished her senior season with 514 kills, tied for the eighth-highest total in Nebraska history and third during the rally-scoring era. Foecke joined Sarah Pavan (2006) and Kelsey Robinson (2013) as the only Huskers to have 500 kills in a season during the rally-scoring era (since 2001).
- Foecke also had 46 services aces in 2018, the fifth-highest total by a Husker in the rally-scoring era.
- Maloney finished with 86 digs in her career in NCAA Semifinals/Finals matches. That total ranks in a tie for fourth in NCAA history and is the most in the rally-scoring era.
- Maloney finished her career with 229 digs in the NCAA Tournament digs to rank third on Nebraska’s postseason career digs list.
- Maloney had 84 digs in the 2018 NCAA Tournament, the fourth-highest total in Husker postseason history.
- Maloney finished her career with 1,406 digs. That total ranks fifth all-time at Nebraska.
- Maloney had 536 digs in her senior season, the fourth-highest total in Nebraska history. Maloney averaged 4.03 digs per set – the eighth-highest total in school history – to become the fifth Husker to average 4.0 digs per set in a season.
- Lauren Stivrins hit .615 in the match. That ranks as second-highest total in NCAA Finals history (minimum 20 attempts) behind Pacific’s Elaina Oden, who hit .690 in the 1986 NCAA Final.
- Stivrins hit .421 in 2018 to become the fifth Husker to hit over .400 in a season and the first since Brooke Delano in 2010. Stivrins’ .421 attack percentage was the third-highest mark in school history and ranked second during the rally-scoring era.
- Jazz Sweet had 10 kills, her first match with double-figure kills since Oct. 24 at Ohio State.
- Nicklin Hames had a career-high 62 assists against Stanford. She finished her freshman season with 1,395 assists, which ranks as Nebraska’s third-highest season total during the rally-scoring era.
- Callie Schwarzenbach finished the season with 177 blocks, a Nebraska freshman record and the eighth-highest total by a Husker in the rally-scoring era.
- Mikaela Foecke and Lauren Stivrins were both named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team. Foecke made the team for the third time in her career.