No. 5 Nebraska made quick work of first round opponent Stony Brook as the 2017 NCAA Tournament got underway on Friday night.
The Huskers swept Stony Brook 25-10, 25-14, 25- in front of 8,213 fans at the Devaney Center and advance to the round of 32.
Nebraska out-hit the Seawolves .402 to .111, out-blocked them nine-to-two and served up nine aces to none for Stony Brook.
“Last year against New Hampshire, we won 25-23,” Coach John Cook said. “New Hampshire is from the same conference as Stony Brook and the year before we lost the first game to Harvard. Penn State tonight lost a game against Howard. It’s difficult to play these teams, because this is their national championship match. We’re supposed to take care of business. It’s a different level than what we’re used to playing at. They’re not as big and as physical. It’s hard to play really, really well, but our team did a really good job taking care of business tonight. You just look at the stats; it’s just very consistent so I’m really pleased how they took care of business.”
Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht finished with a match-high 14 kills on .500 hitting while fellow left side hitter junior Mikaela Foecke added nine kills on .600 hitting. Neither player recorded an attack error.
Junior libero Kenzie Maloney served up a career-high four aces and added seven digs. Senior setter Kelly Hunter finished with 34 assists and 10 aces. Senior defensive specialist Sydney Townsend added 10 digs and two aces. Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins chipped in eight kills and six blocks.
Nebraska set the tone from the service line all match and dictated the flow of the game.
“We had them out of system essentially the whole night and then we’ve been working on out-of-system blocking and defense the whole week so it put us in a good position to get good [transition] plays and stuff like that,” Maloney said.
Nebraska opened the match with a 3-0 run and never looked back, building up a 13-6 lead then delivering a knock-out blow with a 6-0 run. Nebraska cruised to a 15-point first set victory.
Nebraska began the second set with a 4-0 run, and after going back and forth for a bit Nebraska used a 3-0 run to double up the Seawolves 12-6 and draw a timeout from Stony Brook. Two more 3-0 runs later and Nebraska led 20-10 before finishing off the set for an 11-point margin.
Stony Brook hung with Nebraska early in the third set, but a 9-0 run by Nebraska snapped a 4-4 tie and put Nebraska in the driver’s seat the rest of the way. Leading 22-11, Cook put senior middle blocker Allie Havers into the game and she recorded her first career kill on the next point. Havers notched another kill as well before Nebraska finished off the match with a kill by Albrecht.
“One of the top three highlights of the year was seeing Allie get that kill,” Cook said. “She thumped that thing and just the excitement and the energy from the whole building was incredible, especially from her teammates.”
The fifth-year senior joined the volleyball team this season after playing four years of basketball and had only played one rally the entire regular season.
“It was awesome,” Albrecht said. “She worked so hard for it. She works hard every day and she probably didn’t even know if she was going in or not and she comes in every day at practice and she works her butt off. So to see that hard work payoff is just awesome as a teammate. She super-thumped it. It was awesome.”
Havers said she’s been preparing all season as if she was going to hear her number called, and Cook said getting her into the game is something that’s been on his mind for a while.
“I started thinking about it about three weeks ago,” Cook said. “I had a feeling that in the first round that I wanted to find an opportunity to get her into the match because I got her in at Michigan and I saw the impact and how big of a deal that was to Allie and how much it meant. So, I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while and it worked out great.”
In Friday’s first match in Lincoln, Washington State took down Florida State 3-1 that started with a marathon first set. Washington State outlasted Florida State 34-32 in a first frame that included 20 ties and seven lead changes.
The Huskers will face the Cougars (18-15) on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center. Washington State got a monster effort from Taylor Mims with 28 kills (on 79 attempts) and 22 digs as the Cougars out-hit the Seminoles .272 to .133.
“Mims is a really nice outside hitter and she gets a lot of sets, so you know where the ball is going,” Cook said. “I thought they played really good defense tonight. They’ve got a big, physical right-side player and a big, physical middle – Michigan State type level athletes. I thought they competed really hard tonight. They’re used to playing great teams, so they’re not going to be worried about playing Nebraska. We have to expect a really tough match. That’s going to be our mindset going in. We’re going to have to battle. They’re going to be a handful to deal with.”
Saturday’s match will be a showdown between athletic director Bill Moos’ current and former teams. Moos was in attendance for both matches on Friday.
“I thought he was going to send a limo to pick us up, that didn’t happen, so I’ll have to have some words with him about that,” Washington State coach Jen Greeny said. “I did get to see him for a quick moment, it was great to see him. Of course we miss him a lot but very happy for him and you guys here at Nebraska to gain a great athletic director. Maybe he was singing the fight song just a little under his breath for us, maybe; he probably can’t do that tomorrow. But yeah, it was great to see him and glad that he is here, not for us, but for you.”
Saturday’s match will be televised on NET.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.