“Two points better” was the theme of the offseason for Nebraska coming off their national runner-up finish in 2021. The Ducks proved to be two points better on Thursday, however, as Oregon won two deuce games to beat Nebraska in five in the Sweet 16.
The second-seeded Huskers saw their season end at 26-5 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.
Nebraska had chances to end the match in four but couldn’t capitalize as the third-seeded Ducks (26-5) took down the Huskers 14-25, 26-24, 22-25, 32-30, 15-11 behind a monster performance from the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, Mimi Colyer.
“It was thrilling, wasn’t it?” Coach John Cook said. “Some great volleyball … It was a great match. Oregon made a couple plays to win it. I thought we played our hearts out and sometimes that’s how those things go, a couple deuce games, and they made some great plays. I told the team that I don’t really feel like we lost that match, I thought Oregon won it. The other thing I told them is that I don’t think there’s anybody in Nebraska that’s not proud of them.”
Nebraska hit .199 with Lindsay Krause leading the way. The sophomore finished with 16 kills on .324 hitting and six blocks, but Kaitlyn Hord (seven kills on .412 hitting and nine blocks) was the only other Husker above .190. Ally Batenhorst added 15 kills on .182 and 12 digs while Whitney Lauenstein added 12 kills on .143 hitting.
Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 18 digs while Madi Kubik added 17 digs to go with her nine kills on .105 hitting. Nicklin Hames finished her career with a 24-assist, 12-dig, two-ace performances while Anni Evans added 22 assists, 15 digs and an ace.
Colyer posted a match-high 26 kills on .354 hitting for the Ducks who hit .217 as a team. Brooke Nunneviller added 16 kills, though Nebraska forced her into 11 errors.
Oregon served 14 errors with just four aces while Nebraska recorded seven aces and just five errors and won the blocking battle 14 to seven. Nebraska outscored Oregon in total points, but the Ducks made the big plays when it mattered most.
“They run a great offense and they pass,” Cook said. “They are really hard to defend. But I thought we did a great job. In the first game, we put on a clinic and our defense gave us chances to win. Their defense was great too — they made some great plays, some great digs. At the end of the day, they killed more balls than we did and that’s usually one of the things that determines who wins and loses, but we out-served them and we out-blocked them. That was a great match; it could have gone either way.”
The teams seemed to feel each other out early on with 11 straight sideouts to start the match. Nebraska finally created a bit of separation with a 6-2 run to take an 11-7 lead. A sideout kill followed by a Nebraska attack error gave the Ducks their first service point of the day, but Nebraska responded with a 5-0 run featuring Rodriguez at the service line to open up a 16-9 advantage.
Nebraska used a 3-0 run including kills from Krause and Lauenstein and an ace from Evans — her first of the season — to push the lead to eight. The teams traded sideouts until the Cornhuskers closed out the set with a 3-0 run.
“We obviously knew it was going to be different having an early match, but I think we knew we had trained for this all week, and we prepared well for this,” Batenhorst said about Nebraska’s start. “So, we went into the match knowing we were ready. We had a good mindset and I think every play, we were just thinking ‘next ball’ and no matter what happens, focusing on the next point ahead of us.”
Nebraska hit .220 with four players notching three kills apiece. Oregon hit .026 as the Huskers recorded six more kills, six more digs and three more aces.
Oregon opened the second set with its first ace to take its first lead of the day, then after Nebraska won three of the next four rallies the Ducks surged ahead 7-4 with a 5-1 run behind a much cleaner and more effective attack than in set one.
The clean start didn’t last long, however, as four errors (three attack, one service) fueled a 5-1 Nebraska run and gave the Huskers a 12-11 lead. Oregon quickly righted the ship, winning seven of the next nine rallies to pull ahead 18-14.
Nebraska rallied to take a 22-20 lead using a 6-0 run with Kubik at the service line, but the Oregon pins took over down the stretch. Colyer had back-to-back kills to tie it, then Nuneviller gave Oregon the lead. The teams went back and forth until an errant Lauenstein attack on Oregon’s second set point ended it.
Nebraska hit just .205 with Batenhorst’s five kills leading the way. Oregon was plus-four in kills and hit .283 behind Colyer’s nine kills.
After trading sideouts early, Oregon used a 4-1 run to take a 7-4 lead for the second straight set. Nebraska pulled even at 9-9 on a Batenhorst solo stuff (Nebraska’s second block of the set after recording two in the first two sets combined), but Kubik missed her serve, Kiari Robey terminated and Hannah Pukis served an ace to give Oregon a three-point lead.
Nebraska tied it again at 13-13, then used a 3-0 run including a kill, an assist and a block assist from Lauenstein to take a 16-15 lead. After six straight sideouts, Nebraska pulled ahead 20-18 on a double-block from Hord and Krause.
Six more sideouts followed before Oregon missed wide on an overpass tip, handing Nebraska set point at 24-21. Oregon sided out with a Colyer kill but Daley McClellan sent her serve long to give Nebraska a 2-1 match lead.
Nebraska only recorded 12 kills and hit .229, but the Husker block took over as the Ducks had 10 attack errors including six Nebraska stuffs and hit .111. Colyer had five more kills but Nebraska forced her into four attack errors after she had just one in the first two games.
Both teams left their defenses in the third set as neither side was able to slow down the other early on. The set saw 12 ties and four lead changes before the media timeout, but Nebraska managed to create a bit of separation at 16-13 with a 4-0 run that included a kill then back-to-back aces from Batenhorst.
Nebraska held off one push form the Ducks to pull ahead 20-17, but the Ducks took over from there, outscoring Nebraska 7-2 including a 5-0 run to earn set point. Lauenstein wasn’t ready to let the set end, however, notching back-to-back kills to tie it up before an Oregon attack error gave Nebraska match point.
The Huskers couldn’t capitalize, however, which became a theme. Nebraska had four different match-point opportunities and didn’t score on any of them. The set went on so long that Nebraska ran out of subs and got caught with Evans and 5-foot-6 freshman Maisie Boesiger in the front row.
Oregon had five set-point chances and finally took advantage on the last one, getting kills from Morgan Lewis and Nuneviller (on an overpass dig that fell on Nebraska’s side of the net) to end the marathon and extend the match.
“When you get to that point in the game, that’s when you really just want to take the biggest swings, get the biggest digs, serve the ball the hardest, all that stuff,”Krause said. “When you’re in that situation, you want to give it your all. I think everybody did at that point, and you can tell by the fact that it went 32-30 and we gave our all, we ran out of subs, we had Maisie playing front row, we had Anni playing front row who hasn’t played front row all season, just all that stuff and then in the end, Oregon just got those last two points, but I think it was pretty evident how much we were giving at the end of that set.”
The set included 20 ties and nine lead changes. Nebraska hit .261 with 19 kills but had no answer for the Ducks, who hit .408 with 24 kills and just four attack errors. Batenhorst led Nebraska with five kills, but Lewis went off for eight while Colyer added six more to her tally.
Krause recorded a couple of kills early in set five, but the next Husker termination didn’t come until the 18th rally of the set. Oregon ripped off seven straight points with Colyer at the service line before a Kubik kill. Nuneviller fired back to give Oregon set point at 14-5.
Krause had three blocks and a kill down the stretch as Nebraska scored six in a row to put some pressure on the Ducks, but Robey finally capitalized on Oregon’s seventh match point to end Nebraska’s season.
Nebraska hit minus-.050 with just four kills and five errors while Oregon hit .211 with nine kills.
With the win, Oregon moves on and snaps Nebraska’s run of 10 consecutive Regional Final appearances as the Huskers’ journey back to Omaha comes to a premature end.
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.