LEXINGTON, Ky. – Nebraska’s has yet to lose a set in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. The latest victim was a Colorado (24-10) team making its first appearance in an NCAA Regional since 1997. The Huskers’ serve and defense led the way on Friday in the 25-19, 25-11, 25-21 win as Nebraska held a 9-2 edge in service aces and outhit Colorado .292-.109
“Once we adjusted to their speed our block and defense kind of took over that match,” Nebraska Coach John Cook said.
It took Nebraska (29-4) a bit to warm up in front of a mid-sized, mid-afternoon crowd at Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. The teams traded points early before a 4-0 run with Mikaela Foecke at the service line gave the Huskers’ an 8-4 lead. Colorado battled back to tie it at 12.
With the Buffs devoting extra attention, first in the middle then to outside hitters Foecke and Annik Albrecht, Nebraska turned to Jazz Sweet. The true freshman recorded six of her nine kills in the first set, including four over the Huskers’ final seven points.
“I didn’t see any nerves. She looked confident and was doing her job,” Cook said. “I told her freshmen play good in this tournament. She’s listening to me.”
The second set was a much different story as the Huskers’ serve consistently kept Colorado out of system. A Foecke kill keyed a run of five serves from libero Kenzie Maloney, including a pair of aces and three attack errors by the Buffs, to give Nebraska a 7-3 lead. Seven points later, with the score already 11-6 in favor of Nebraska, Foecke broke the game open, serving seven points as the Huskers built an 11-point lead. Overall Nebraska closed the set on a 14-5 run and held Colorado to -.024 hitting.
“It builds your own confidence,” Foecke said of the long stretch at the service line, “but it also builds the confidence of the team. You can kind of see the other team breaking down.”
“We tried a couple different things and moved a couple things around,” Colorado Coach Jesse Mahoney said. “We could not get in system and really struggled to get a side out there and that was certainly the turning point in that set. I do think that we’ve been in sets like that before where we’ve gotten blown out and responded. I know we didn’t win the third set, but I did like how we responded in the third set.”
Facing elimination, Colorado answered with its best set of the day. After failing to lead beyond the first five points in either of the first two sets, the Buffs took a 12-11 lead in the third on an ace from Frankie Shebby. Nebraska took control of the match following a kill by Albrecht to make it 15-14. She recorded three more kills – part of a match-high 13 on .344 hitting – as the Huskers built a 24-21 lead, then capped off the day with an ace to secure the sweep.
“That’s a very good team on the other side of the net,” Mahoney said. “They put a lot of pressure on you in a lot of different ways and they definitely deserve to advance to the next round. I’m sure they will be very competitive in the rest of this tournament.”
It was Nebraska’s third 3-0 win of the tournament and sixth straight sweep since dropping a set at Ohio State on Nov. 17. The win puts the Huskers in an NCAA Tournament Regional Final for the sixth straight season and 27th time in school history. It is also the 15th time in 18 seasons that Cook has led the Huskers to a Regional Final.
Foecke, Maloney, Kelly Hunter and Hayley Densberger all had two service aces in the match. Hunter recorded her 14th double-double of the season (35 assists, 10 digs), and moved into second place in career assists at Nebraska (3.995), passing Greichaly Cepero (3,987).
Nebraska, the No. 5 overall seed in the tournament, will face host Kentucky (29-3) on its home floor at 3 p.m. (CT). The fourth-seeded Wildcats advanced Friday with a five-set win over 13-seed BYU (20-25, 25-17, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9). The match will be carried on ESNPU.
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.