MINNEAPOLIS — In a five-set thriller of a national championship match, top-seeded Stanford (34-1) extended a program-best unbeaten streak to 32 matches with a 3-2 win over seventh-seeded Nebraska (29-7) to claim its eighth title in school history.
Stanford claimed sets one (28-26) and three (25-16), with Nebraska taking two (25-22) and four (25-15) before the decisive fifth set.
After the match, senior Mikaela Foecke, sophomore Lauren Stivrins and coach John Cook met with the media for an emotional press conference to wrap their season.
Here’s the full transcript of what was said.
Head coach John Cook
“I think it's a great night for volleyball, two of the most storied programs in college volleyball went at it, put on a great match. What was the crowd, 18,000?
“It was an exciting match. It had drama. It went back and forth. You know, if you look at the stats here, they had one more sideout than we did. That's how close it was. Congratulations to Stanford. They played really well in that fifth game. They just seemed like they served really tough. Once they got out to a little lead, they made a nice comeback.
“I'm very proud of our team, how hard they fought. We did some really good things tonight, competed really well. Not many people gave us a chance. Get to the fifth game, anything can happen. Great effort by our team tonight, as well.”
On Foecke’s legacy at Nebraska and the girls behind her carrying it on?
“Well, as of right now, the legacy has to get passed on. Mikaela and Kenzie both have done a phenomenal job of showing these younger players how to make a team, build a team, create a team, get them playing together, where they could probably play better than the sum of their parts, which I think this team did. Especially the last two months.
“So they've just been great leaders. They've been great teachers. They've been great examples. As I told them in the locker room, Mikaela and Kenzie, Brooke is part of that as well, they've created a legacy here over the last four years that we're all going to be chasing. I'm going to have to become a better coach. Our returning players are going to have to find a way to go to another level to reach what these guys have done.
“If you look over the last four years, they're 51-3 in the months of November and December. It's not like we're playing a bunch of nobodies in the NCAA tournament.
“They've had I don't know how many different assistant coaches over those four years. They've been to four Final Fours, won two of them, lost in a semi, now lost in a final.
“Puts those guys' legacy way up there in college volleyball. But we're going to make a commitment. Lauren is going to be one of the leaders. We're going to make a commitment to chase that legacy. ”
On how he’ll look back on 2018?
“I thought last year it couldn't get any better. I've had more fun coaching this year, more satisfaction, more enjoyment because of where we started, all the mountains we had to climb, and we get to this and play as competitive a match against a great Stanford team, they've already won a national championship, all these players. They had a great season.
“For us to compete and be in there in the end, it's pretty rewarding. But the bummer is Mikaela and Kenzie, this is our last match. We have a special bond. It's been really a cool journey with those guys. Like on my phone, my phone cover picture is of Mikaela and Kenzie sticking their tongues out at me, doing weird signs. They put that on there. I don't know how to get it off (laughter). That's an example.”
On what led to such a dominant fourth set after a lopsided loss in the third set?
“Our serve, blocking, defense took over. They hit .121. I just thought we got dialed in. We made a couple adjustments. They started getting touches, digs and conversions.
“Like I say, we had some opportunities. Game five, we missed two serves. You look, they had one more sideout than we did. If you look at the total points for the match, it's half a point difference. I don't know how you get half a point in there. Ask the NCAA that.”
On Foecke’s leadership?
“She's special. Like I said, that's a great leader. She's learned and developed some incredible skills while at Nebraska, playing Nebraska volleyball, that will carry through her life to make her successful, be a great leader. She's going to be a veterinarian. She will be the best dang veterinarian in eastern Iowa probably, throughout her life. It's just been an honor to coach her for four years.”
On the last four years and if it’s taught him anything about appreciating the good times?
“I'm so grateful every day. But we work really hard. I've learned how to surround our program with great people, to allow these student-athletes to become the best that they can become. Kenzie [Maloney], Mikaela, and Brooke [Smith] have created a culture of expectation and winning. We're going to be chasing it now because it's a really high standard that they've set, success level. Like I said, their legacy. ”
On the future with Nicklin Hames as a key piece of the equation?
“She's a warrior. She's the only freshman in the top 10 this year. She's the only freshman in the Final Four, setter. She's a warrior. I'm looking forward to getting another year training her, getting her in our strength program, all that stuff. We got a great foundation to build on with her. ”
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke
On if there were plays Nebraska made in the fourth that it didn’t make in the fifth set?
“No, not particularly. I think that Stanford made a few great plays. We had a few errors. Ended up obviously costing us a few extra points that won them the match.”
On what those differences in execution were?
“I mean, just looking at the stats, we didn't sideout as effectively as they did in set five. And I think when you're only playing to 15 points, you have to sideout very effectively. We let them get a few too many runs and weren't able to come back. We fought hard at the end, but it wasn't good enough.”
On her performance and if there were any plays she feels she left out on the court?
“I mean, I think you always feel like you leave plays out there, balls you could have dug, kills you could have got, blocks, all of it. ”
On if she’d classify this season as a success?
“Yeah, looking at the season overall, I made bonds with girls that at the beginning of the season I definitely wouldn't have thought I would have been as close to them as I was. That's why I think it's so difficult right now, is because I love them so much, want them to be so successful. I think overall, yeah, the season was a success because we learned so much from each other, from the coaches. We made bonds that will last a lifetime, and memories that we'll cherish forever. ”
On ending her career with a career-high 27-kill performance?
“Honestly, I don't really care about that. I really wish the score was flipped in the fifth set. But obviously it wasn't good enough to win. So what do you do?”
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins
On whether there was something about the match that allowed her to be as effective as she was?
“Not in particular, no. I just think Nicklin is a really talented setter. I don't know, we've just been connecting really well recently. She's got a lot of faith in me. Her putting up hittable balls, me going up there and taking risks, like coach says, swinging like a guy, swinging like a dude. It made me pretty successful tonight. ”
On this being the last time she plays with Foecke and Maloney?
“Yeah, it sucks. I think they're two of the greatest players and people that have ever come through this program. The legacy they leave behind is second to none. I don't know if I can be half the captain or player that they are. I think we'll be fine. ”
On the pressure Stanford can put on a team with its ability to sideout?
“Yeah, they have a really huge block. They have really talented hitters. Jenna Gray is a phenomenal setter. I think that's why.”
On why she thought both teams were able to have such big runs throughout the match?
“Yeah, I think it's just going out there and wanting it. I think both teams, like, gave it all they got tonight. It sucks to come up short. I don't know. We'll figure it out for next year, I guess.”