In her final match at the Devaney Center, senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke left the 8,382 fans in attendance with a performance to remember as the Huskers swept Missouri 25-14, 25-22, 25-18 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.
The match was filled with plenty of fist pumps, celebrations and even a little dancing as the Huskers savored their last match together on the Devaney Center court.
“I was telling the girls in the locker room that I thought playing a team like Missouri that’s really spunky and has a lot going for them, it’s fun, it makes it really competitive out there and obviously you could tell when we were out there that we were having a lot of fun,” Foecke said. “I think that was probably one of the biggest moments for me, just being able to be out there with my teammates and enjoying the last moments here.”
Foecke finished with 16 kills on 24 swings, seven digs, four blocks and two aces to lead the Huskers back to the Regional Semifinals. She moved from sixth to fourth on Nebraska’s all-time kills list, passing Husker legends Jordan Larson and Nancy Metcalfe (Meendering).
“She went the whole weekend and didn’t have an attack error,” Coach John Cook said. “She blocks, she passes, digs, the whole thing. To play at that level with no errors two matches in a row, tell me the last player that did that.”
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun finished with 11 kills on .333 hitting, eight digs and an ace. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins put together another strong performance with eight kills on 12 swings and six blocks.
Sophomore opposite hitter Jazz Sweet finished with eight kills on .316 hitting, her highest total since she put down 11 kills at Ohio State on Oct. 24. She hit .316, just her fourth time in her last 15 matches that he’s cleared the .300 mark. She had four kills and no errors on nine swings on Friday night against Hofstra.
“Jazz has been working really hard the last few weeks,” Cook said. “We’ve tweaked couple things and just to see her be aggressive and take swings like that, that’s the Jazz I’m used to. She’s choosing a really good time to play like that. When you can kill balls from both antennas, it makes it hard to defend.”
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had 37 assists, nine digs, two aces and three blocks including one solo stuff. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney finished with 12 digs and an ace and served key runs in each of the three sets.
Overall, the Huskers hit .384 and held a Missouri team that hit over .400 in the first round to .216. The Huskers served seven aces to just one for the Tigers and doubled them up in blocks, eight to four.
“I told the team that our players who won the national championship last year really showed how to raise the level and I thought they did some great things tonight,” Cook said. “Also, for a second round match, that’s the toughest I can remember in a long, long time. Missouri’s a very good team, they served tough, they’ve got some great arms and they ball-handled really well. Great effort by Missouri; really, really impressed with them and we had to play a great match to win tonight.”
Missouri opened the first set with a 3-0 run, but the Huskers dominated from then on as the Tigers failed to string any more points together. The Huskers converted their last 12 sideout opportunities to roll through the set.
Nebraska used an 8-1 stretch including a 4-0 run served by Maloney to pull ahead 8-4. A 3-0 Huskers run made it 12-5 and Nebraska continued to build the lead from there. Hames closed out the game with an ace on set-point.
Nebraska hit .333 in the set and held Missouri to .061. After committing just six attack errors total against Arizona in the first round, Missouri had eight of them in the first set alone against Nebraska. Foecke put down five kills on six swings while Stivrins went 3-for-3 and also chipped in a pair of blocks.
Missouri got off to a good start again in the second set, jumping out to a 4-1 lead, but once again Nebraska had an answer as Maloney served up a 7-0 run to give Nebraska another 8-4 lead. This time the Tigers had an answer, however, battling back into the game and using a 3-0 run to tie the match at 10-10.
Nebraska pulled ahead 18-14 with a 4-1 run, but the Tigers responded with three straight to pull within one. A 3-0 Huskers run including a kill and an ace by Foecke made it 21-17. Missouri made on last push, pulling within two a couple of times, but Nebraska finished it off with Callie Schwarzenbach’s first kill of the night.
Foecke recorded six more kills in the set while Sun added five of her own. Nebraska hit .351 in the game but Missouri picked up its percentage from the first set, hitting .278.
Missouri took two of the first three points in the third set but the Huskers put together a 10-2 run capped by Foecke’s second ace to pull ahead 11-4. Maloney served a 4-0 run during that stretch as well. Nebraska stretched its lead to eight at 14-6, leading to Missouri’s second and final timeout of the set, and the Tigers responded with a 4-0 run.
Missouri couldn’t make up any more ground, however, as the teams traded the next several points. With Nebraska leading 19-14, Cook sent in reserve setter Brooke Smith and the senior served a 3-0 run to put the Huskers up 22-14.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Hames said. “I’m training with Brooke all the time, so we’re always together. She’s a great teammate and she works her butt off every day, coming into the gym and she brings a lot to this team. She’s always been a huge team player and our team wouldn’t be the same without her. She deserved that little run and I’m super proud of her.”
The Huskers finished off the sweep with a match-point kill by Sweet, punching their ticket to the Sweet 16. Nebraska hit .469 in the third set, committing just one attack error.
Nebraska is headed to the Sweet 16 once again.
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) December 2, 2018
Cook said one of the highlights of the night for him was seeing the standing room only area of the arena almost full by 6, an hour before game time.
“I just think what a great honor for Mikaela, Brooke and Kenzie to be able to play their last match here in front of a sold-out crowd, and our crowd was awesome tonight,” Cook said. “I could feel like we were floating on the court. It just amazes me, even though I’ve been doing this a while, it amazes me that we get that kind of crowd, that kind of support, people are waiting out in the snow and the cold.”
The Huskers will head to Minneapolis to take on Kentucky on Friday night. The Wildcats swept Purdue 25-20, 25-21, 25-14 in the second round. Middle blocker Brooke Morgan finished with 12 kills on .429 hitting, outside hitter Leah Edmond had a team-best 13 kills and libero Gabby Curry recorded a game-high 18 digs. Setter Madison Lilley had five kills and five digs to go with her 37 assists.
“I think the goal obviously is to go up a gear every single match, and that’s within the weekend and that’s within the points,” Foecke said. “I think that obviously when we go to Minneapolis this coming week and we play Kentucky, we’re hoping to take it to another level than where we were at tonight.”
No. 2 seed Minnesota swept South Carolina on Saturday night and will host the regional in Minneapolis. The Golden Gophers will face Oregon who beat Baylor in five sets.
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.