Huskers' Season Comes to an End in Elite Eight
SEATTLE, Wash. - The 14th-seeded Nebraska volleyball team's run through the NCAA Tournament came to an end late Saturday night in Alaska Airlines Arena, as the Huskers fell to upset-minded BYU 3-0 (21-25, 20-25, 21-25) in the Seattle Regional Final.
The Huskers finished the season 23-10 and came up one match shy of the NCAA Semifinals for the third straight season. Nebraska has been in four regional finals since its last NCAA Semifinals appearance in 2008 but has been unable to advance each time.
After upsetting No. 3 Washington on Friday to snap the Huskies' 34-match home win streak, the Huskers couldn't muster the same performance on Saturday to top the Cougars.
BYU (29-4) entered the NCAA Tournament ranked 12th in the nation but was unseeded. The Cougars reeled off a second-round win over No. 11 Arizona and a Sweet 16 win over No. 6 Florida State on Friday before knocking off the Huskers on Saturday. BYU will take on No. 2 Texas in one NCAA Semifinal in Oklahoma City, Okla. next Thursday. The other semifinal pits top seed Stanford against fifth-seed Penn State.
Amber Rolfzen led the Huskers with 11 kills. Kadie Rolfzen had 10 kills and 15 digs for her fourth double-double of the NCAA Tournament. Kelsey Fien added nine kills. Senior setter Mary Pollmiller capped her Husker career with 38 assists for a career total of 5,230, which ranks fourth among current DI setters. Justine Wong-Orantes had 22 digs in a solid defensive effort.
The Husker game plan of limiting BYU's 6-7 hitter Jennifer Hamson worked. After posting 30 kills Friday vs. Florida State, Hamson was held to nine kills and .132 hitting by the Huskers. But the rest of her teammates stepped up, led by Alexa Gray's 11 kills and .310 hitting. Tambre Nobles had 10 kills, and Amy Boswell added eight while hitting .438.
BYU showed why its the top blocking team in the nation, tallying 12 blocks to eight for the Huskers. NU had a 70-57 advantage in digs but committed four service errors and four reception errors to allow the Cougars to gain an edge.
Nebraska opened up an 11-9 lead early on in set one, but the Cougars used a 3-0 spurt to take a 12-11 lead. The teams engaged in a sideout battle before BYU took a 20-18 lead after Hamson's first kill and a Husker hit off the antenna. After a Husker timeout, BYU's Ciara Parker served an ace to make it 21-18 and Hamson killed again for a 22-18 lead, causing another Husker timeout. Kadie and Amber Rolfzen struck for back-to-back kills to cut it to 22-20 before BYU took a timeout. The Huskers then committed a service error and a reception error to fall down 24-20. The Cougars ended it at 25-21 on their fifth block of the set. BYU outhit NU .333 to .214.
Nebraska went up 5-3 in the second set on stuffs from Hall and Kadie Rolfzen and then Meghan Haggerty and Amber Rolfzen. But BYU went on a 5-0 run to take an 8-5 lead. Alohi Robins-Hardy started it with a set kill and a joust win. Two Husker attacking errors and a Boswell kill gave the Cougars the three-point edge. A Cecilia Hall kill and Pollmiller ace trimmed the deficit to 10-9. NU then fell behind 14-10 before stringing together a 4-0 run by picking up its defense. Haggerty and Kadie Rolfzen combined for a block to even the set after Wong-Orantes and Annika Albrecht produced key digs. The Huskers took a 17-16 lead after BYU hit wide. But the Huskers broke down defensively, committing passing and reception errors to help BYU to a 22-18 lead. Hamson had two kills down the stretch to help BYU finish the 25-20 win.
Melanie Keil provided a spark off the bench in set three with two kills to tie it 8-8 before Hall and Fien combined for a block for a 9-8 Husker lead. The Huskers led 11-10, but BYU rallied for a 14-11 lead a kill by Hamson and kill and block by Boswell. The Cougars began to pull away, going up 19-14 on a Husker service error, attack error and Hamson kill. The Huskers continued to fight, as a Fien kill and Pollmiller ace cut it to 20-17 and forced a BYU timeout. NU thought it had cut the lead to one when Hamson's blast went long, but it was ruled to have tipped off a Husker's fingers and instead made the score 21-18. The Cougars went up 23-19 after the Huskers hit long and they ended the sweep with a 25-21 win.
Nicole Walch, Florida State
Krista Vansant, Washington
Kadie Rolfzen, Nebraska
Mary Pollmiller, Nebraska
Amy Boswell, BYU
Alexa Gray, BYU
Jennifer Hamson, BYU (Most Outstanding Player)
Nebraska Post-Match Quotes
Head Coach John Cook
"They were pressuring us the whole time and never let up. Great job by them. When you don't pass the ball and dig the ball to target, then your setter is on the move and sets are compromised, and that puts our hitters in a tough position. They're the best blocking team in the country, and of course we played in to that. The times we passed the ball and controlled the ball, we did pretty well. But we couldn't do it enough."
On the breakdown in serve receive
"They were serving very tough and we couldn't pass their serves. Hamson's got a great serve and 15 had a great serve going, so they just were aggressive and they were sticking the ball, and for whatever reason we didn't pass very well. A lot of it is to do with their serving, but we also shot ourselves in the foot. We called timeout, or they called timeout, then we'd miss the serve. We'd call timeout and we'd get aced. Not only does it cost you that point, it probably costs you a couple more points which leads to those runs. And we lost two games by four points and one by five, so there's your runs. When you get to this level, a regional final, you can't be giving up runs like that."
On instructions in timeouts
"We just talked about trust their training, remind them fundamentally what they need to do. That's about all you can do, and they've got to be able to do it. Give BYU a lot of credit. They were really aggressive tonight, and they didn't make many errors."
On the game plan
"We knew they were going to run middle early, and we wanted to shut that down and be on it, and we didn't execute once, and they killed us in the first two games in the middle. So we knew that was going to happen. If you told me we were going to hold Hamson to .132 and nine kills, I'd say we've got a really good shot to win. But when you don't side out and win those long rallies, that makes it really tough. We did a great job on Hamson, but their middles were the ones that really hurt us."
On preparing to play the day after a big win
"I think it's hard. This team has struggled with that this year. I don't know if it's our youth, but all of our passers are freshmen and sophomores. You've always got to win the serve and pass battle to have a shot. I remember in 2010, Washington beat us in a four-game match and turned around and got smoked by Cal the next night. So last night probably took a lot out of us. But that's not an excuse. You've got to do that to go to a final four. We just weren't there this weekend."
Senior Mary Pollmiller
On the team's confidence
"I think we were confident the whole time. I think BYU did come at us strong and we should have handled it better than we did."
Junior Amber Rolfzen
On the game plan against Jennifer Hamson
"We knew she was going to be their go-to player, so I think we just focused on stopping her. I think what they did well was they knew we were going to stop her, so other players stepped up and performed well."