Husker Seniors Bid Goodbye to Devaney in Style
The match was so methodical, so anti-climatic, that Nebraska volleyball players forget to run around the Devaney Sports Center court to high-five fans one final time this season.
“It hasn’t really set in,” senior setter Kelly Hunter of playing her final home match as a Husker. “Somebody mentioned, ‘Should we do a victory lap?’ and it was already too late.”
For a while, it looked like the No. 5 Huskers might get to stay at home next weekend, anyway. No. 4 seed Kentucky fell behind two games-to-none to Western Kentucky as Nebraska began it’s second-round match against Washington State.
But by the time the Huskers finished off the Cougars 25-13, 25-13, 25-18 in a tidy 1 hour, 22 minutes before 8,314 fans, Kentucky had rallied for a five-set victory, assuring the Wildcats will host the regional semifinals and finals next Friday and Saturday.
If Nebraska performs as it did this weekend, though, the site might matter little in the Huskers’ quest for a fourth straight Final Four.
“We started with a lot of energy and we came out strong,” said Hunter, who finished with 35 assists. “We took control of the match right away. That’s something we haven’t done all season. We’ve kind of let the other team come out strong, and I think it was really important for us to have the energy and play as a unit, because it felt like we were a great team this year.”
A great team that finished the season undefeated at home – 17-0 – another fact that sort of escaped players whose entire focus has been advancing in the postseason.
“We really didn’t know that’s what we were looking for this year,” Hunter said, “but we owe it to the fans and everyone who shows up every game, no matter what time we play or what day of the week it is. They were awesome this year.”
So, too, were these Huskers, who continue a fun journey during what’s supposed to have been – and really has been, actually – a rebuilding season.
It just hasn’t looked that way.
“Huskers did a great job of building a game plan today and following it,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “We blocked really, we dug really well. I think we really frustrated Washington State.
“They were swinging pretty good (Friday) night. Our team took that challenge on and did an awesome job. They never, I don’t think, ever felt comfortable tonight.”
The Cougars’ top hitter, Taylor Mims, managed a mere nine kills on 49 swings as Washington State (18-16) hit a meager .033.
“She’s a really crafty hitter. I just think were frustrating her,” Cook said. “She was really pressing trying to get kills. We took away her shots, were touching her on the block, and then we were digging her.
“It was a combination of our block and floor defense. It’s hard to get a rhythm when that’s happening.
Indeed, the Huskers had their middle attack going, with senior middle Briana Holman hitting .421 with 12 kills, and helping contribute to Nebraska’s total of 10 blocks.
“We work on blocking a lot in practice,” Holman said, “and it’s nice to see it come to play during a game.”
Cook was happy his team served tough, got Washington State out of system and made the Cougars pay for it.
“We got a lot of opportunities because they were receiving serve a lot tonight,” Cook said. “Our whole thing is try to suffocate them and make them pay when they give us an easy ball, and we did a really good job tonight.”
Now the Huskers hit the road, with Hunter and Holman among those seniors saying goodbye to the Devaney Center – one final victory lap, or no.
“This has been a special couple of years being from Nebraska and playing in Devaney,” Hunter said, “which is the greatest facility in all of women’s volleyball.”
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.