OMAHA — The four volleyball matches between Nebraska and Washington during the past eight seasons have all come on some of the biggest stages in the NCAA Tournament.
Included are the NCAA championship match in 2005 (Washington won), a regional final in 2008 (Nebraska won) and a regional semifinal in 2010 (Washington won).
Washington ended the Huskers’ season in 2010, and Nebraska did the same to Washington this season with a 25-14, 25-21, 25-23 victory in the Omaha Regional semifinals Friday in front of 8,954 fans at the CenturyLink Center Omaha.
Washington coach Jim McLaughlin and Nebraska’s John Cook quickly shook hands following the match, avoiding a repeat of a bad scene from the last time the teams played, when there were some disputed calls.
It may not have been a surprise that the 10th-ranked Huskers beat No. 5 Washington, but a three-set sweep probably was.
Washington had won several big matches this season in the powerful Pac-12 Conference and is the best blocking team in the nation.
Cook said it was pretty impressive that Nebraska held a Washington team with several weapons to a .130 hitting percentage.
Now the Huskers will play No. 6 Oregon in the regional final Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Nebraska last played in the Elite Eight in 2009, and is desperate to get its talented senior class to its first Final Four.
“We got half the job done; we've got another half to go tomorrow night,” Cook said.
Gina Mancuso led Nebraska with 14 kills, Hannah Werth and Morgan Broekhuis added nine and freshman middle blocker Meghan Haggerty had seven.
Nebraska was able to take advantage of its home-state crowd to get an early lead in the first set. NU had three straight blocks — the final two by Broekhuis and Haggerty — and led 20-10. At that moment, the Nebraska fans' "roof, roof, roof" cheer echoed though the building.
Washington still ended up as the dominant blocking team — outblocking the Huskers 11-4 — but Nebraska showed it could match some of the Huskies' physical play.
“I just think we were able to take advantage that first game. We were playing really well, passing well, we started off serving really tough and I think Washington was on their heels a little bit, and that’s how we were able to get a couple blocks,” Cook said. “I think everything we were doing to them in that first game was really putting pressure on them, and it took them a while to get going.”
Washington took a 14-10 lead in the third set on — get this — a triple block, but Nebraska kept chipping away with kills by Mancuso and digs by Werth.
Broekhuis had kills for Nebraska on two of the final three rallies, including off a Washington block on match point.
“We dug some balls, and when you start digging them that puts doubts in their heads and kind of gives us some momentum as well,” Broekhuis said.
The teams had to go about it different ways — Washington with its blocking and Nebraska with its defense — because of the size of the players and the systems they play, but Nebraska got the job done.
Nebraska had 55 digs to 33 for Washington. Werth had a match-high 22 digs, and that’s another example of why Cook felt Werth should have been chosen as the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
“That’s Hannah,” Cook said. “Hannah thrives on playing defense. She’s gotten a lot better at reading. She’s so athletic that she can cover a lot of court back there.”
Krista Vansant was the only player with double-digit kills for Washington with 11.
“The Huskers played really well,” McLaughlin said. “We didn’t play real well. They served very, very tough. They dug — very good defense, and I don’t think we responded to that. Our girls played hard. I thought the energy level was very good and the environment was outstanding. The environment was incredible. I don’t think we responded well, or it took us a while to get our feet under us.”
NEBRASKA 3, WASHINGTON 0
Assists leader--Beals, 16.
Assists leader--Cook, 36.