Nebraska looked a little bit more like the team Huskers fans know and love on Saturday night as the Huskers bounced back from an opening-night loss to No. 7 Florida to sweep No. 18 Oregon at the VERT Challenge.
The Huskers beat the Ducks 25-21, 25-21, 26-24 in front of 8,135 fans at the Devaney Center.
“I’m really pleased our team took another step today,” Coach John Cook said. “I think we cleaned some stuff up from yesterday. We had two outside hitters that had zero errors today, so it was more like Husker volleyball. I thought we served tough, especially end-game when we needed to, really at the end there in game three, I thought serving was the difference. We did a great job adjusting to their speed and getting good touches and blocks and digging them. I thought we did a really good job defensively with only this morning to really prepare.”
The Huskers committed 30 attack errors against the Gators, hitting .126. On Saturday, Nebraska committed just 12 attack errors and hit .246.
“I don’t really know if you can chalk it up to one specific thing but I think overall tonight we kind of came in with a different mentality,” senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “Last night — we always talk about having too much energy and how that can be a bad thing, and I think tonight we played at a really consistent level in comparison to last night where we were super up and down. I think that is one of the main reasons that our attacking errors went down. Last night we had 30-some and tonight was only 12. I would just say that was a big part of it and also just kind of getting into a rhythm from the very first point. Nicklin [Hames] did a great job of getting us there but also I think our passing was great tonight. We didn’t hardly get aced and when we did, it was a next-point mentality and the next ball was perfect.”
Foecke was a force for the Huskers and played an incredibly clean game, finishing with a match-high 15 kills and zero errors for a .375 hitting percentage. She chipped in 11 digs for her second straight double-double.
Foecke was named to the VERT Challenge All-Tournament Team after the match. She was joined on the team by Oregon's Willow Johnson, Florida's Thayer Hall and Allie Gregory and Texas' Mikaya White, Sydney Peterson and MVP Morgan Johnson.
Freshman middle blocker and birthday girl Callie Schwarzenbach added six kills on nine swings without an error after committing four errors against the Gators on Friday.
“Callie is such a physical player, but she’s one of the most humble and quiet people you’ll ever meet,” sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney posted a match-high 16 digs to go with four assists and Hames, the freshman setter, totaled 35 assists, nine digs and an ace.
Friday’s sloppy play carried over into the first set on Saturday as Nebraska found itself down 6-1 before it even recorded a kill. Even the video board over the court went dark. Nebraska settled down and responded with a 6-3 run to pull within two but Oregon stretched its lead out to six, 15-9, at the media timeout.
Much like on Friday, the Huskers struggled mightily to terminate as the Ducks held an 8-4 edge in kills midway through the set. Nebraska picked it up after the break with an 8-3 run to pull within one before Oregon ripped off two straight points, drawing a timeout from Cook.
From that point, Oregon fell apart as Nebraska put together a 7-0 run with Hames at the service line to earn several set points. Oregon ended the run with a kill but served into the net to give Nebraska a 25-21 win.
“It took us a while to adjust to their speed but that run we had, we had a couple good servers going but we touched and dug a lot of balls,” Cook said. “We started turning points on them by doing that and you could see they got a little frustrated. I think it was our block and defense that turned that first game around.”
Oregon narrowly out-hit Nebraska .119 to .105 but the Ducks committed seven service errors to give Nebraska the win.
After bringing freshman outside hitter Capri Davis off the bench on Friday midway through the match against Florida, Cook gave her the nod first over sophomore Sami Slaughter. However, after just one kill and three errors on 12 swings for Davis, Cook went back to Slaughter trailing 6-5 in the second set and the Huskers took the lead with a 5-1 run. Nebraska stretched its lead out to six with a 3-0 run including back-to-back kills by Slaughter.
Oregon pulled within three a couple of times but got no closer as Nebraska closed out the set at 25-21 thanks to another errant serve by Oregon on set point. Nebraska hit a blistering .412 in the set with just two attack errors.
Two kills by Foecke sandwiched around an ace by Hames got the Huskers off to a 3-0 start in the third, Oregon countered with a 4-0 run and Nebraska one-upped the Ducks with five straight points in response. Oregon called a timeout trailing 8-4.
The Ducks regrouped and pulled within one a few times, then tied it a few times then took the lead at 18-17 before Nebraska took a timeout. The Ducks misfired on the serve out of the break but Lindsey Vander Weide notched three straight kills to put Oregon up 21-18. Nebraska countered with a 4-1 run to tie the match capped by middle blocker Lauren Stivrins’ second career ace, a beauty of a serve that just barely cleared the net and dropped sharply.
“It felt great. Honestly, I was just trying to keep it in and trust my training,” said a laughing Stivrins. “It was kind of best-case scenario … I’ve really been trying to work on my consistency and obviously the first game it wasn’t great.”
Stivrins had three service errors on Friday.
After going back and forth a few times, Nebraska made the winning plays — something they didn’t do against the Gators — and closed out the match with a 3-0 run.
Sitting at 1-1 after the first weekend, Nebraska has a lot to review and learn from heading into the next match.
“I think that we can take away a lot of things to work on,” Foecke said. “Obviously our serving errors were still too high and we can probably be better attacking too, but I think one of the main things we can take away is that we are a special group and we can come together and win a big game, and we proved that tonight. I think we’re just going to have to be able to grind it out day in and day out and game by game.”
However, Foecke did say she’d love another crack at the Gators, who dropped a five-set match to No. 3 Texas on Saturday afternoon after leading 2-1. The Longhorns finished 2-0 at the VERT Challenge.
The Huskers will get back at it next weekend for the Americas Players Challenge. The action gets started on Friday with Nebraska’s first match set for noon.
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.