MINNEAPOLIS — Almost.
Nebraska, a No. 7 seed in a rebuild year with over three-quarters of its roster underclassmen, took Stanford, a No. 1 seed with the two-time defending National Player of the Year, to five sets in a match that was every bit the heavyweight bout it was billed as. Both exchanged body blows but Stanford had just a few more plays to make, earning a 3-2 match win over the Huskers to claim the 2018 National Championship.
The Cardinal blew past BYU in its semifinal match, sweeping the Cougars out of the tournament. Nebraska needed to come back from a 2-0 deficit against Illinois to advance. Saturday was back-and-forth the whole way.
Stanford took the first set, 28-26, but Nebraska dominated the numbers. Stanford just made fewer mistakes. Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun hit minus-.400 in the opening frame and the Huskers committed five attack errors, two serve errors, five receiver errors and two blocking errors. Nebraska out-hit the Cardinal .302-.268 behind seven kills from senior Mikaela Foecke on 14 swings.
Stanford took the match’s first two points and the Huskers responded with a 9-2 run. From that point on, it was back and forth throughout the entire opening set.
In the second set, Nebraska went on the offensive. Foecke fired eight kills in the frame and sophomore Lauren Stivrins added five kills of her own to give Nebraska a 25-22 match-tying second set win.
As was the case in the opening set, things went back and forth early in the second. But at 15-all, Nebraska got breathing room it didn’t have in the first. Two Stanford errors followed by a Capri Davis kill (one of her _ on the night) followed by two Foecke kills gave Nebraska a 20-16 lead. Stivrins ended things with a rifled ball right into Stanford’s Megan McClure’s attempted block.
Stanford took all the momentum right back after intermission, as quickly as they possibly could, too.
A kill from Stanford’s Audriana Fitzmorris gave the Cardinal a 7-2 lead early, then a 10-1 run from Stanford ballooned the lead up to 20-9. In the frame, Stanford out-hit the Huskers .238-.027, Nebraska had eight attack errors and the Cardinal took control with a 25-16 set win. But the Huskers battled back. A lost set didn’t see a dip in energy from NU.
That carried over.
Nebraska came right back with a 5-0 start to the fourth set that stretched to a 9-1 lead. Stanford looked relaxed and the Huskers looked ready to kill. Stivrins went nuclear, with big kill after big kill, bumping her total to a career-high 19 (.615 on 26 swings) on the night. Nebraska out-hit Stanford .412-.121.
In the fourth, Foecke moved past Nebraska legend Sarah Pavan and became the program’s all-time leader in postseason kills. She entered the day with 282, just 22 behind Pavan’s 304. And she broke the record on Nebraska’s 25th point to take the set and force a decisive fifth.
Nebraska took the first two points of the fifth but Stanford responded with a 5-1 run to get back in. From there, Nebraska could only pull even with Stanford, never ahead. Nebraska would tie, then the Cardinal would go back up two. The difference proved to be two Nebraska service errors right before the change.
A Stanford attempt gone wide left made things 13-11 in favor of Stanford, but kept the Huskers alive. Stanford challenged it was in and won, making it 14-10 and giving the Cardinal match point.
Nebraska fought off twice but couldn't stay in it. McClure ended things for Stanford's eighth title in program history.
Foecke, after a career-high 27-kill game (.296), was named to the All-Tournament team along with Stivrins. For the match, Nebraska out-hit Stanford .271-.250. The Cardinal had one more dig. Sideout percentage was nearly identical. Nebraska was as good as it could have been. There were just a few plays that got away from the Huskers and those proved critical.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.