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NCAA volleyball notebook: Foecke, Hunter shine on the biggest stage once again
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NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP NOTES

NCAA volleyball notebook: Foecke, Hunter shine on the biggest stage once again

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There's something about the spotlight that brings out the best in Mikaela Foecke.

For the second time in three years, Nebraska is the national champion in volleyball following Saturday's four-set win against Florida at the Sprint Center. And for the second time in three years, Foecke is the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.

This time, Foecke is sharing the honor with her setter. Senior Kelly Hunter, along with Foecke, were named co-outstanding players of the Final Four.

In Foecke's mind, Hunter is the team's most outstanding player.

"I wouldn't want anyone else to be the most outstanding player other than Kelly," said Foecke, who finished with 20 kills, 14 digs and three blocks against the Gators. "She's the most deserving person on our team. She works so hard every single day and she's such a great leader. We definitely wouldn't be here without her."

Hunter finished with 37 assists, six kills and eight digs. Both players caused all kinds of problems for the No. 2 Gators, especially Foecke, the first-team All-American.

Nebraska won Sets 1, 2 and 4, and Foecke punctuated each of those sets with kills.

"You know, the first time (2015) I thought was extra-special," Foecke said. "Winning a national championship seems like a once-in-a-lifetime experience and so to be here a second time, that I'm super-grateful for."

Florida coach Mary Wise said if she had a vote for most outstanding player, she would have picked Hunter. However, she was quick to praise Foecke's efforts.

"Mikaela was really, really good tonight. Her ability to terminate ..." Wise said. "Mikaela has a great arm, but Kelly, I think was the best setter in the country, and I think on the biggest stage and on the biggest night, I think she was the best player on the court."

Special moment for Holman: Senior middle blocker Briana Holman graduated Saturday, and she obviously was unable to attend the ceremony back at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The ceremony was recorded and later displayed on the big screen at the Sprint Center while Nebraska was finishing a workout. Holman was surprised to look up and see it.

As Holman got up off the floor, she started wiping tears from her eyes.

"I didn't see that one coming," said Holman, who finished with seven kills and six blocks against Florida. "I got really emotional. I've been really emotional all day and this just tops it off."

Holman, who started her career at LSU, did not play during the Huskers' 2015 national title run, having to sit out because of transfer rules.

"I can't even put it into words," Holman said. "Yeah, it was sweet winning in 2015, but being out there and participating and contributing meant a lot to me, especially alongside the seniors."

More relaxed against the Gators: Holman said the Huskers played more relaxed against Florida, more so than against Penn State.

"I think that we had confidence," she said. "It almost felt like the national championship game was on Thursday than today. We know that we're our biggest opponent and when we play free and we play loose and we play together and have fun, that's when we play the best.

"I think we were a little more relaxed tonight. We knew it was going to be a good game tonight, but we were out for revenge against these guys, so we brought it." 

Moos and Gordo: Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos was on hand for both of Nebraska's matches in Kansas City. And so was Alex Gordon.

Before the match, Moos was talking to the former Husker and current Kansas City Royal.

"That was the first time I got to meet him," Moos said. "What a neat guy. We're going to get together again. I'm going to come down and watch him play."

Big Red takeover Part II: Nebraska fans again took over the Sprint Center, as well as the Power and Light district before Saturday's match.

Nebraska fans loaded the Kansas City Live stage area for a prep rally led by play-by-play announcer John Baylor.

Saturday night's crowd was 18,516, which set an NCAA championship record. The old record was 17,561, which took place in Omaha two years ago.

It was also the largest crowd to ever watch a college volleyball match.

"Our fans are unbelievable," Moos said. "It was all red, mostly all red and it was very supportive and I know the team felt that."

Huskers do it with defense: Nebraska held Florida to a .141 hitting percentage and had a 65-49 advantage in digs.

Four Huskers finished in double figures for digs led by Kenzie Maloney with 15. Foecke had 14, and Sydney Townsend and Annika Albrecht each had 11 as the Huskers continued to dig balls from the powerful Florida hitters.

Serve-pass fits: The Huskers were also very effective in their serve-pass game. Nebraska continued to deliver serves toward Florida libero Caroline Knop, who was playing with a small cast on her left hand. Knop broke her hand nearly a month ago against Arkansas.

"I think we knew that the serve-pass game was going to be crucial in this match, and they definitely won that game tonight," Florida senior Carli Snyder said. "It puts us in a difficult position trying to play out-of-system balls."

Nebraska finished with four aces, two days after dishing out 10 against Penn State.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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