Nebraska volleyball got off to a slow start, but rallied in a big way to beat Pittsburgh 3-1 and advance to play for a national title against Wisconsin. Here are three thoughts on the Huskers’ win over the Panthers.
All About the Response
Pittsburgh jumped on Nebraska. It served at Lexi Rodriguez, a first-team freshman All-American at libero, which is a contrarian strategy. It outhit the Huskers .483 to .167 in the first set. The Panthers completely controlled the first set.
But Nebraska responded. The Huskers had an embarrassing error to start the second game, but recovered quickly to build a 3-1 lead. It was a lead the Huskers wouldn’t relinquish.
The Huskers were playing in their 16th NCAA Semifinal. Pitt was playing in its first. Credit to the Panthers for having a good plan and executing it in the first set.
In the second set, Nebraska evened the score and effectively said, “We’ve been here before.” That experience and confidence allowed the Huskers to withstand a first set that went as poorly as it could have.
Nebraska answered immediately and it meant everything. The Huskers won the second set 25-17, nearly equaling Pitt’s 25-16 win in the first, and it reset the game.
Remember, the Huskers had been here before. Pittsburgh hadn’t.
Hey, Kayla Caffey
Through the first point of the fourth set middle blocker Kayla Caffey had seven kills on 13 swings. It was a fitting bit of excellence from one of the most under-appreciated pieces of Nebraska’s attack all season.
Caffey didn’t earn All-Big Ten honors, but she was a second-team All-America selection by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. That was a pretty good indication that Caffey flew under the radar for much of 2021.
The win over Pitt proved it. Senior and captain Lauren Stivrins was a key leader throughout this run, a player opponents had to plan around. But Caffey, in that Stivrins jet stream, simply made plays. Focus on others? Kayla Caffey will make you pay.
And she did. Caffey finished with 10 kills on 22 swings.
It’s easy to take the consistent excellence of Nebraska volleyball for granted. Don’t.
If Nebraska football post-Solich, but particularly post-Pelini, has taught us anything it should be that the surest things are far less certain than they feel. Nebraska volleyball has a lot of built-in advantages. It has a great pitch for the best players in the country. It has a devoted fan base that aids in that. We’re very used to taking that for granted.
But as the post-Solich and particularly the post-Pelini eras illustrated, never take that for granted. It may feel like a birthright, but it always requires extraordinary effort and extraordinary execution.
That’s what defines good coaching. You can have all the talent in the world, but if that talent isn’t assembled to peak when it matters most, you only have talent.
It never feels, no matter how much talent Nebraska has or how the “regular season” goes, that Nebraska is banking on its talent to take over. And that’s coaching, too. It’s coaching at a high level, aspiring to something that can’t be quantified by wins but results in wins.
That’s how Nebraska won 3-1.
We’ll have much more on Nebraska’s win over Pittsburgh to come from our reporters on the ground in Columbus. Don’t miss any of our coverage by subscribing today.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.