We’re down to the final month or so of Mikaela Foecke’s college volleyball career, and in a career with so many memorable matches in November and December, she had another one Saturday.
The Nebraska outside hitter was big, and big in the biggest moments, during the sixth-ranked Huskers’ 15-25, 25-20, 28-26, 26-24 victory against No. 15 Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Foecke had another great match against Michigan with 22 kills. She had just two hitting errors over 43 attempts for a .465 hitting percentage.
In two wins against Michigan this season, Foecke had 43 combined kills. She averaged 5.37 kills per set in the matches against Michigan, when her season average is 3.71 kills per set.
In the third set Foecke had eight kills, including the final two when Nebraska rallied to win the critical set.
“(Foecke) played at another level tonight. That was impressive,” said Nebraska coach John Cook in a radio interview. “I think (setter Nicklin Hames) has figured out how to set her, and did a really good job setting her. I think she got kind of the tempo that (Kelly Hunter) had with her last year. Mikaela was just hitting every shot in the book.”
Foecke, a second-team All-American last season and twice the MVP of the NCAA Final Four, was also just behind the team lead in blocks with five. She had eight digs and one ace serve.
Nebraska (20-6, 11-5 Big Ten) won its fourth straight match, and earned its fourth win against a top-15 opponent this season.
Saturday’s performance wasn’t great, Cook said. The Huskers were tentative early in the match, didn’t pass great and had nine serving errors. But the Huskers fought to win two close sets at the finish.
“We won two close games, which a month ago we weren’t doing. So really good effort by them,” Cook said.
Lexi Sun added 17 kills for the Huskers, including Nebraska’s final two kills of the match. Lauren Stivrins had 13 kills on .280 hitting. Stivrins also had two of the Huskers’ five ace serves, and served a 5-0 run in the third set.
Freshman defensive specialist Megan Miller had another good match in her return to the lineup. She had a match-high 23 digs, which is her career high. She also had one ace serve. In the third set, Miller served a 6-0 run that gave Nebraska an 18-16 lead. After Michigan made a comeback, she served when the Huskers won the final two points of the set.
In the locker room after the match, assistant coach Jaylen Reyes said Miller played a big role in the Huskers’ comeback, with some diving digs and serving runs.
“He thought that turned the match for us, and got us all the momentum,” Cook said.
Nebraska wasn’t able to get its entire offense going. Right-side hitter Jazz Sweet had six kills, but also five hitting errors. Middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach hit .000 on 10 attempts.
But Sweet and Schwarzenbach are two of Nebraska's best blockers, and the duo teamed up for the block on match point that kept Michigan from forcing a fifth set. That thrilled Cook, because the thought of a fifth set scared him.
“We got to get those guys going (hitting), and if we can do that we got a chance to be a really, really tough team,” Cook said.
In the third set, Nebraska fought off three Michigan set points. The Huskers won the set by winning the final three points on a kill by Sweet, and then two from Foecke.
Hames had 52 assists and 18 digs for her 12th straight double-double. Kenzie Maloney added 17 digs.
Carly Skjodt led Michigan (19-8, 8-8) with 18 kills.
— Brent C. Wagner