Nebraska Advances to Regional Semifinal
Lincoln - The top-ranked Nebraska volleyball team advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the 17th time in school history Saturday night when it defeated South Carolina in a nail biter, claiming a 15-11, 9-15, 13-15, 15-12, 15-13 victory over the Gamecocks before 4,002 fans at the NU Coliseum.
Four Huskers posted double-figure kill totals, led by sophomore middle blocker Amber Holmquist's 20. Senior right side hitter Kim Behrends posted a career-best 18 kills and sophomore outside hitter Laura Pilakowski totaled 15 on a .306 hitting percentage in her first significant action since undergoing a laparoscopic appendectomy Nov. 21. Junior middle blocker Jenny Kropp added 14 kills.
Defensively, senior right side hitter Angie Oxley recorded 21 digs, while freshman Anna Schrad had a career-high 17.
The Huskers (30-0) will face Ohio State, which beat Notre Dame in five games Saturday, in the semifinals of the Central Region Dec. 8 at the Coliseum. Nebraska is 43-17 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
"I never had a doubt in my mind that we wouldn't win," NU Coach John Cook said. "South Carolina, they played great. They did some things great and they deserve a lot of credit. We didn't play well tonight, and we were out of sync a lot, but the crowd was great and really helped keep in it."
After tying the match at one game each, the Gamecocks (22-7) stunned the Huskers (30-0) in the third when they took an 11-1 lead before eventually pulling out the victory and going up 2-1 in the match. Nebraska has been pushed to five games just three times this season, with the other five-game matches coming against UCLA and Kansas State. The Huskers had dropped just eight games all season coming into the match.
But Nebraska found a way to win in the critical fourth game. Nebraska trailed 8-12 in the fourth when Schrad stepped to the service line for a 6-0 run that included three key kills from Kropp and a thunderous shot by Behrends that gave the Huskers a 14-12 lead. A USC block of Kropp by Milica Perovic forced a side out, but Oxley returned the favor with her ninth kill of the match to give NU a second shot at game point. Nebraska secured the 15-12, fourth-game win with Kropp serving on an attack error by the Gamecocks' Nia Mackie.
The Huskers led by as many as six in the rally-scoring fifth game before South Carolina cut their advantage to 14-13 with a kill from sophomore middle blocker Berna Dwyer. But the Huskers wrapped up the match on the ensuing possession when the Gamecocks committed an attack error.
"I was confident and believed in my teammates," Behrends said. "I knew that we were going to pull it out. I believe in us."
South Carolina took an early 3-0 lead in the first game behind kills from Sefferovich and Berna Dwyer, who led USC with 19 kills. The Huskers and Gamecocks were tied four times before sophomore setter Greichaly Cepero and Holmquist blocked Dwyer for the fifth and final tie of game at 11 all. Oxley served two aces to give NU a 13-11 lead and was behind the service line for Nebraska's final two points of the game. A block of sophomore middle blocker Megan Hosp by Behrends, who led Nebraska with six kills on a .455 hitting percentage in game one, sealed the 15-11 win for the Huskers.
The Gamecocks again held the early advantage in the second, jumping to a 5-2 lead. Nebraska tied the score at seven with a kill by Holmquist, and then took a 9-7 lead after a block and a kill by Behrends. After 11 possession changes, South Carolina scored seven straight to force game point. Cepero thwarted USC's first attempt for a win with a kill before the Gamecocks captured the 15-9 victory on a block by Sam Alban. The Huskers hit .164 in the second after posting a .351 efficiency in the first, while South Carolina hit .372 in the second game, led by Milica Perovic's six kills and .857 hitting percentage.
South Carolina stunned the Huskers by racing to an 11-1 lead behind three kills from 12 and two from 11. Nebraska slowly battled back, receiving a spark off the bench when Cook inserted Pilakowski who delivered five kills as NU out-scored the Gamecocks 7-2. South Carolina took a 14-9 lead on a setter dump by Hosp. NU regained control on a kill by Oxley, who served four straight to bring the Huskers within one. But the Gamecocks took possession when NU was called four hits, and Sefferovich sealed the 15-13 win for USC with her 12th kill of the match.