No. 7 seed Nebraska is headed for the Regional Final for the seventh straight season after a 3-0 win over No. 10 seed Kentucky on Friday afternoon that included a furious third-set rally.
Nebraska (27-6) closed the match on a 14-5 run to complete 25-17, 25-20, 25-23 sweep over the Wildcats (26-5) at Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis. The Huskers have now made it to the Regional Final 16 times in John Cook’s 19 seasons as the head coach at Nebraska, the most of any school during that span. The Huskers are 70-14 (.833) in the postseason under Cook and are 111-31 (.782) all-time in the NCAA Tournamnet, the second best mark behind only Stanford (.796).
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke posted a match-high 14 kills on .303 hitting, 10 digs and three blocks to lead the Huskers. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun added 13 kills and seven digs.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney, freshman defensive specialist Megan Miller and freshman setter Nicklin Hames finished with 11 digs apiece while Hames added 38 assists. Hames’ double-double was her 22nd of the season, tying Jordan Larson’s single-season program record in the rally scoring era.
The Huskers hit .239 for the match, snapping their streak of consecutive matches with .350 hitting or better at five. However, they also held Kentucky to a season-low .165 hitting and out-blocked the Wildcats eight to three. Nebraska served up four aces with five errors while Kentucky only managed two aces while missing their serves nine times.
Nebraska put pressure on the Wildcats early on, serving tough out of the gate and forcing the Wildcats into some sloppy play. Nebraska struck first with a kill by freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach, but the Wildcats responded with three straight.
Nebraska responded with a 3-0 run of its own then pulled ahead midway through the set with a 4-0 run served by Foecke. The Huskers had two aces and no errors while Kentucky had one ace and three miscues in the first 18 rallies.
Kentucky pulled within three a few different times but got no closer than that as an 8-2 run put the Huskers up 24-15. Kentucky saved two set points before Foecke finished it off with a back-row kill.
— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 7, 2018
Kentucky had two more kills than Nebraska (12 to 10) but also committed eight attack errors and four service errors. Meanwhile, the Huskers only had three attack errors and one service error while putting down three aces and recording three blocks. Sun had four kills without an error in the first set.
Nebraska jumped out to a 6-1 start in set two including two more blocks, then back-to-back kills by Foecke made it 8-2. Nebraska took its largest lead with a 3-0 run featuring back-to-back kills by Sun and one by sophomore opposite hitter Jazz Sweet as well that put the Huskers up 14-7.
Then the Huskers started to get a little sloppy and Nebraska attack errors opened the door for Kentucky to gradually work its way back into the match. Kentucky put together an 8-3 run to pull within two at 17-15.
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins put down back-to-back kills after a timeout by John Cook to stretch the lead back to four. After going back and forth a few times, a service error by Hames and an errant attack by freshman outside hitter Capri Davis let Kentucky pull back within two at 21-19. Alli Stumler returned the favor with a service error for Kentucky that sparked a 4-1 finish to the set by Nebraska to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission. Foecke teamed up with Schwarzenbach for a double-block on set point.
— NCAA Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) December 7, 2018
Nebraska’s left sides, Foecke and Sun, combined for 10 kills in the set including six by Foecke, but they also totaled seven errors. Overall the Huskers only hit .188 in the second set but held the Wildcats to .136 thanks in part to four more blocks.
Kentucky took control early in set three, jumping out to a 4-1 lead. Nebraska tied it at 6-all, but the Wildcats responded with a 5-0 run. Nebraska pulled within three but Kentucky put together a 501 run to take its largest lead at 17-10. After trading points, the Huskers were staring at a seven-point deficit with Kentucky needing just seven more points to stave off elimination.
Then Foecke stepped up and put down kills on back-to-back points, sparking a 14-5 Huskers rally to close out the match.
An ace by Miller after Foecke’s kills made it 18-14 and drew a timeout from Kentucky. Miller misfired on her serve after the stoppage but Stivrins put down back-to-back kills, then Kentucky missed on a swing to make it 19-17. Kentucky scored three of the next four points to push the lead back to four at 22-18.
It was all Nebraska after that point however, as the Huskers scored seven of the final eight points to pull off the come-from-behind victory in set three and seal the sweep. Sweet put down back-to-back kills then Foecke tied it at 23-all.
Kentucky appeared to win the next point, but a successful challenge by Cook turned the tables to give the Huskers set point as Kentucky star Leah Edmond’s hand caught the net on her follow-through. Foecke finished it off on the next rally.
Foecke had five kills in the third set including the final three while Sun matched her with five more kills on her own. Nebraska hit .308 in the final game.
The win sends the Huskers to the Elite Eight on Saturday evening at 5 p.m. to face the winner of No. 2 seed Minnesota and No. 15 seed Oregon.
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.