Photo by Allyssa Hynes/Nebraska Communications

Fans, Foecke Highlight Final Home Match

By Brian Rosenthal

Fans began forming a line long before the Bob Devaney Sports Center ticket windows opened Saturday.

They waited in the cold and rain and snow to snatch whatever final tickets were available for what would likely be Nebraska’s final home volleyball match of the season.

John Cook noticed this.

He also paid attention when the standing room-only section that circled the top of the arena filled an hour before the Huskers began their NCAA Tournament second-round match with Missouri.

Not that Cook, the Nebraska veteran coach was, surprised.

Not in the least.

But you will never catch Cook taking such a scene for granted. He knows how fortunate Nebraska’s program is to have unmatched, unyielding fan support, and with Nebraska concluding another home season, Cook made certain to say so once again.

“It amazes me – even though I’ve been doing this a while – it amazes me we get that kind of crowd, that kind of support,” Cook said, “that people are out waiting in the snow and the cold.”

Cook even called it the “highlight” of an evening that concluded with Nebraska seniors Mikaela Foecke, Brooke Smith and Kenzie Maloney leading the players’ victory lap following No. 6 Nebraska’s 25-14, 25-22, 25-18 sweep of Missouri to push the Huskers to their 34th Sweet 16 appearance.

Defending national champion Nebraska (26-6) will take a 10-match winning streak into Thursday’s regional semifinal against Kentucky in Minneapolis.

“What a great honor for Mikaela and Brooke and Kenzie to be able to play their last match here in front of a sold-out crowd,” Cook said. “Our crowd was awesome tonight. I could feel like we were floating on the court.”

That made for a perfect night – literally – for Foecke. The outside hitter from West Point, Iowa, played the first two matches of the NCAA Tournament without a hitting error, and collected a match-high 16 kills against the Tigers.

“To do a victory lap is thanking them for everything they’ve done for us all season long, and for me, the past four years,” Foecke said of the fans. “To give them a high five really means a lot.”

Foecke finished the match with a season-high .667 hitting percentage, and now ranks fourth in school history with 1,604 kills, as she passed Jordan Larson (1,600) and Nancy Metcalf Meendering (1,603).

Her performance came against a Missouri team that had hit .412 in a first-round sweep of Arizona.

“Playing a team like Missouri that’s really spunky, that has a lot going for them, it’s fun,” Foecke said. “It makes it really competitive out there.”

Cook said Missouri (24-8) marked the toughest second-round opponent he could remember facing in a long while.

“Missouri is a very good team,” Cook said. “We had to play a great match to win tonight.”

That, the Huskers did.

Nebraska served particularly strong, keeping a potent Missouri offense out of system much of the night. The crowd roared when Jazz Sweet hammered a pair of overpasses, and the Huskers finished with seven ace serves, including two by Foecke.

The Tigers hit .216 for the match, with 38 kills on 102 swings.

“They’re a very good offensive team,” Cook said. “They’ve got five live arms out there. It was a good effort by us.”

The Huskers improved to 72-3-1 all-time against Missouri, a former Big Eight and Big 12 Conference foe, and they are now 20-2 in the Devaney Center in postseason play.

Foecke and Maloney are 18-1 in the postseason in their careers. Smith, a transfer, entered the match late in the third set and served a mini-run before leaving to a nice ovation from the crowd of 8,382.

“I train with Brooke all the time, so we’re together. She’s a great teammate and she works her butt off every day in the gym,” freshman setter Nicklin Hames said. “She means a lot to this team. She’s always been a big team player. She deserved that little run. I’m super proud of her.”

Cook said he noticed the players who played in last season’s national championship match “showed how to raise the level,” and newcomers like Hames are taking notice.

“I think our energy was super high and the crowd was really into it and cheering pretty loud,” Hames said. “You’re just having fun. I didn’t even realize the score; I don’t think anybody did. You’re kind of just in that flow state.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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