That’s two sweeps and a spot in the NCAA Sweet 16 for the Nebraska volleyball team, and it came in dominant fashion.
On Saturday, Nebraska defeated Washington State 25-13, 25-13, 25-18 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Devaney Sports Center. That followed a lopsided win against Stony Brook in the first round.
Now, the fifth-ranked Huskers (28-4) are headed to Lexington, Kentucky, next weekend for the regional round, and they’re feeling really good about how they’ve started the three-week tournament. The Huskers will play unranked Colorado on Friday.
After never trailing Friday against Stony Brook, Nebraska trailed just once against Washington State, in the second set. The Huskers have trailed for just one rally over a total of 230 rallies in the NCAA Tournament thus far.
“We took control of the matches right away, and that’s something we haven’t really done all season,” said senior setter Kelly Hunter. “We’ve kind of let the other team start out strong, and I think it was really important to have the energy and play together as a unit, because it felt like we were a great team out there, and that’s what set us apart from teams in the past, and other teams this year, is our team chemistry. I think just bringing the energy we brought allowed us to play at another level.”
The Huskers will have to win a regional on the road to get to the Final Four. If they beat Colorado, they'd probably face sixth-ranked Kentucky.
Senior middle blocker Briana Holman said the Huskers will do as they’ve done all season and focus only on the next match. But they're feeling good.
“I think we can go all the way,” Holman said.
Holman led the Huskers on Saturday with 12 kills and five blocks. Annika Albrecht added nine kills, and Lauren Stivrins had eight kills on .538 hitting. Mikaela Foecke had seven kills and four blocks.
But what stood out was the Huskers’ defense. Nebraska held Washington State to a .033 hitting percentage, its second-lowest percentage of the season. The Cougars never scored more than 18 points in any set.
Nebraska had 44 kills in the match, and Washington State a season-low 20. The Huskers outblocked Washington State 10-2, and had 24 more digs. Kenzie Maloney, Foecke and Hunter each had nine digs.
“I think we really frustrated Washington State,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “They were swinging pretty good last night, and our team took that challenge on and did an awesome job. They never, I don’t think, felt comfortable tonight.”
Nebraska did a great job on Washington State all-conference outside hitter Taylor Mims, holding her to nine kills and a .043 hitting percentage. Mims had just one kill on her first 13 attempts.
Mims is a crafty attacker who can hit a lot of shots, Cook said, but the Huskers shut her down.
“I’m not sure she’s felt that against many teams,” Cook said. “It’s the combination of the block and our floor defense not letting her get anything easy, so it’s hard to get in a rhythm when that’s happening. She had 46 swings and only nine kills. That’s a great job by us.”
The Huskers’ blocking came alive in the second set. After having just one block in the opening set, the Huskers had six in the second set.
The team works on blocking a lot, Holman said, and it’s nice when the payoff comes when the Huskers block balls like they did in that second set.
“It’s a great feeling,” she said.
In the third set, NU got out to a 7-3 lead. Washington State pulled to 20-18, but then Stivrins got a kill on a slide play, and the Huskers were back in control. And one final time, on match point, the Huskers got a block.
John Cook says Washington State probably never felt comfortable. Video: pic.twitter.com/cJ9sNrB9b3— Brent Wagner (@LJSSportsWagner) December 3, 2017