Michigan got Foecked.
Behind 21 kills, nine digs, six blocks and .391 hitting from senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke, No. 3 Nebraska took down No. 18 Michigan in four sets on Friday night to open Big Ten play at 1-0.
Scores in Nebraska’s favor were 25-19, 25-27, 25-17 and 25-12 as the Huskers (10-1) handed Michigan (11-1) its first loss of the season in front of 8,392 at the Devaney Center. Heading into Friday’s match, the Wolverines had only dropped one set all season.
“I thought both teams were a little nervous, high-error, and that’s to be expected for a Big Ten opener, especially against a team that’s undefeated and lost one set so I think our players were a little too amped tonight,” Coach John Cook said. “I thought we did a great job with our block and defense of controlling Michigan hitters and as the match went on I thought we got stronger, we got in a better rhythm offensively and started playing some really good volleyball.”
The Huskers put together their third straight dominant blocking match with 14 stuffs and out-hit Michigan .314 to .135. Heading into the match, the Wolverines were tied with Nebraska for the best opponent hitting percentage in the country at .109.
“We prepared really hard for Michigan and I thought our players did a really nice job of following the game plan and we had very few breakdowns tonight,” Cook said. “They had to make a couple great swings just to get kills. Our block and defense was really on them tonight.”
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun put up 14 kills, 16 digs and four blocks for her first double-double as a Husker in her third match at Nebraska.
“This was a big test for her tonight,” Cook said. “It’s her third match of the year, it’s against a very good team and it’s a Big Ten match. I thought she did a pretty nice job. She became a little undisciplined at times but she was taking really good swings and I thought she played really good defense tonight … She had a lot of digs and she controlled the ball really well. That’s something we’ve been working really hard on.”
Sophomore right side hitter Jazz Sweet added 11 kills on .280 hitting and was responsible for matching up with Michigan star hitter Carly Skjodt most of the night, holding her to .184 hitting. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had 44 assists, 10 digs, three kills and three aces. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney tied Sun for team-high honors with 16 digs and also served up two aces.
Freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach recorded her third straight match with eight or more kills with eight against the Wolverines and added four kills on 11 swings without an error.
“Callie is a huge threat in the middle,” sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “She’s a great, great attacker and it’s nice to see her get in a rhythm with Nicklin and even with Brooke [Smith] when Brooke came in; that was really cool to see. The sky’s the limit for that girl.”
Hames got the Huskers started off on the right foot in her Big Ten debut, serving the Huskers to a 3-0 lead with a pair of aces.
“I think she just came out and played regular volleyball for her,” Stivrins said abut Hames’ performance. “I don’t think she really was fazed at all. I think that’s how she’s been playing all preseason and I think she does a great job of setting this team and distributing the ball. She really gets everyone available, especially when we pass well.”
Nebraska stretched the lead to 7-2 and forced Michigan’s first timeout, but the Wolverines responded with a 6-1 run to tie it up at 8-8 and draw a timeout from the Huskers.
Nebraska ended a long rally with a double-block by Sweet and Schwarzenbach to take a 14-11 lead then used a 4-0 run to pull ahead 20-15. Michigan cut the deficit to three at 21-18 but the Huskers closed the set with a 4-1 run capped by the team’s sixth block of the set (this one by Foecke and Schwarzenbach).
The Huskers held the Wolverines to .059 hitting and Foecke converted all three of her swings into kills.
“I think that really puts the pressure on them,” Stivrins said about the Huskers’ early blocking. “Jaylen [Reyes] and Coach [Cook] did a greta job of scouting Michigan and preparing us for this set so we kind of new what to expect and it was nice to see us really go after it and getting those stops when we needed them.”
Nebraska opened the second set just like they did the first with a 7-2 lead, but Michigan used a 4-0 run to tie it up at 9-9. Nebraska used a timeout but the Wolverines continued to roll with a 5-0 run that put them up 15-10. Nebraska countered with a 5-0 run of its own to tie it up at 16-16. Six more ties followed before the Wolverines put together back-to-back points for set point at 24-22.
A Michigan serve into the net and an errant attack evened the match at 24-all. The teams traded points but two straight kills by Skjodt put an end to it and tied the match at 1-1 at the intermission.
Nebraska out-hit Michigan .244 to .209 in the set but blocks evened out and the Wolverines had a 2-0 edge in aces.
The Huskers scored the first two points of the third set and played with a lead early but couldn’t create any separation and the Wolverines battled back to tie it at 6-6, 7-7, 8-8 and 9-9. Foecke notched to straight kills to make it 11-9 Nebraska and the Huskers led the rest of the way. Nebraska blew the game open with a 6-0 run that created set point and Foecke finished it off.
The Huskers dominated the fourth set as a 1-1 tie was the closest Michigan got all game. Nebraska got off to a 9-3 start and rolled from there, stretching the lead to as much as 14 at 24-10. Michigan extended the match for a couple more points but Foecke finished it off, blasting a ball off a Michigan defender hard enough to fly back over the net and land out of bounds for a kill.
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) September 22, 2018
“I think that was Nebraska volleyball and I think that we really went in the locker room and we talked about what we needed to fix and we came out and executed,” Foecke said. “Honesty, I couldn’t be more proud of my team. I think that everything we talked about we really did and it obviously showed in the stats and in the points.”
Foecke had 13 kills on 29 swings with just one error over the final two sets and Nebraska hit .467 in the fourth as a team.
The Huskers will return to the Devaney Center Sunday afternoon to wrap up their first weekend in the Big Ten against Michigan State.
“Michigan State is huge, physical,” Cook said. “They’ve got huge pin-hitters, big, physical middles, so it will be a little bit different match because there are going to be some big players at the net. We’re going to have to out-volleyball them.”
First serve is set for 2 p.m. on ESPNU.
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.