No. 5 Nebraska fell to 0-2 on the season Saturday night with a five-set loss to No. 12 Florida at the VERT Challenge in Gainesville, Florida.
Nebraska built a 2-1 lead but Florida rallied to take the last two sets and the match. Scores in Florida’s favor were 19-25, 25-18, 17-25, 25-18, 15-11.
The Gators out-hit the Huskers .214 to .155 and out-blocked them 11.5 to 7.0. Nebraska had no answer for Florida’s 6-foot-8 middle blocker Rachael Kramer, who finished with 20 kills on 28 attacks with just one error.
Mikaela Foecke led the way for Nebraska with 18 kills, 16 digs, four blocks and four aces. She’s notched a double-double in both matches of the VERT Challenge, the first two of her career, as she transitions to playing six rotations this season.
True freshman Jazz Sweet had another strong game as well, finishing with 16 kills on .323 hitting. Fellow true freshmen outside hitters Anezka Szabo and Sami Slaughter made their debut after not playing in the season opener, leaving middle blocker Chesney McClellan as the only true freshman who could still redshirt this season.
Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht had a double-double as well with 11 kills, 16 digs and two aces, but she also committed seven attack errors. Middle blockers Briana Holman and Lauren Stivrins combined for 15 kills, eight errors and seven blocks. Libero Kenzie Maloney led the team with 18 digs and also contributed eight assists while defensive specialist Sydney Townsend added 16 digs and an ace.
Nebraska played without setter Kelly Hunter again as the senior continues to rehab from an offseason injury, and Nebraska's offense was out of sorts for much of the match again. However, redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton did record her first double-double in Hunter's placed with 43 assists and 16 digs.
Nebraska got off to a strong start in the first set, and unlike in Friday night’s loss to Oregon the Huskers kept it rolling throughout the set. Nebraska took its biggest lead at 17-9 thanks to a 4-0 run and held on the rest of the set. Annika Albrecht ended the set with an ace.
The second set looked to be all Florida as a 10-0 run gave the Gators a 14-4 lead. Florida continued to control the set, taking a 21-9 lead, but Nebraska rallied with a 9-3 run to pull within six. However, it was too little, too late as the Gators ended the run and evened the match.
Florida threatened to roll through the third set as well with a 3-0 start, but Nebraska responded with a 9-3 run to assert control. The lead swelled to double digits after back-to-back points by Foecke put the Huskers up 18-8. Florida reeled off a 4-0 run, but Nebraska settled down and cruised to victory as Albrecht ended the set with back-to-back kills to put Nebraska up 2-1.
The teams battled to an 8-all tie in the fourth, but the rest of the set belonged to the Gators. Florida broke the game open with a 5-0 run and Nebraska got no closer than down four the rest of the way.
The Gators carried that momentum into the fifth and raced out to a 5-0 lead. Nebraska scored the next three points but Florida led throughout the set and Nebraska failed to rally.
Nebraska’s home-opener is set for Friday at noon as the Huskers host the annual Ameritas Classic.
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.