VB: Huskers dig out of early hole to bounce Nittany Lions

Photo by Patrick Radigan

Huskers Kadie (6) and Amber (5) Rolfzen combined for 29 kills and 8 blocks in Friday’s win over No. 16 Penn State in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament.



23-25, 23-25, 26-24,
25-19, 15-6

Husker Leaders
Briana Holman

17 K, 7 blks, .583%

Kelly Hunter

20 asts, 5 kills, 4 blks

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Story by Patrick Radigan

Nebraska drops Penn State for the third time this year in a five-set thrill-ride at Devaney.

Facing a 24-22 deficit in the third set and a 2-0 hole for the match, the Nebraska volleyball team was a point away from seeing its quest for a repeat washed away at the hands of Penn State.

Four points later, the Huskers had won the third set, sending the Devaney Center into a “Sandstorm” that the Nittany Lions could not overcome. And although there were signs of life from Penn State, there was still little that could keep the Huskers from taking the fourth set 25-19, before allowing just six points from PSU in closing out the five-set win.

Nebraska got 17 kills and 7 blocks from Briana Holman, 15 and 4 from fellow middle Amber Rolfzen and a 14-kill, 18-dig double-double from Kadie Rolfzen to survive and advance after being stretched to two match points by No. 16 Penn State. But after an early onslaught by PSU’s ‘big three’, it was the Huskers balanced effort that helped NU survive in the third and thrive over the final two sets to put away the comeback.

On top of the 46 kills from NU’s hitting trio, the Huskers got 13 kills from Andie Malloy and 9 for Michaela Foecke, which includes back-to-back kills with the match tied at 24 in the third. In the back row, Justine Wong-Orantes matched Kadie with 18 digs, and was joined by Annika Albrecht (14 digs), Kenzie Maloney (12) and Kelly Hunter (10) as Huskers with double digit digs.

That depth came into play for Nebraska as the match wore on. In the fourth set, Penn State was unable to get any closer than four after Nebraska went up 9-5, while the fifth set saw NU force a negative hitting mark from the seven-time national champions. After three back-and-forth sets to open the match, it was the dominance of Holman and the timely swings from the Huskers other hitters that allowed Nebraska to ride the energy of the home crowd to the comeback win.

Penn State, however, struggled to find production outside of 22 kills by Simone Lee, 21 for Alli Frantti and Haleigh Washington’s 10 kills. Frantti added 15 digs for an impressive double-double herself, but only managed five kills over the final three sets as Penn State got ‘predictable,’ according to Husker coach John Cook.

“Frantti had a lot of attempts tonight, and she started breaking down. That was the game plan tonight,” Cook said. “We wanted to go after her and wear her out.”

The Huskers came out strong in each of the first two sets, and were first to 20 in each frame. But after Nebraska went ahead 22-20 in the first and 22-19 in the second, PSU would win the next three points in each set, and eventually won both frames 25-23 as Frantti and the Nittany Lions took control early.

After jumping ahead 10-3 in the third, Nebraska was still in control at 15-8, but again Penn State found an answer and rebounded with a 6-1 run to cut the lead to just two. Like the second set, the Huskers pulled ahead 22-19 late in the frame, when another three-point run for the Nittany Lions tied the match. That run was extended to 5-0 to force match point, but unlike the first two frames Nebraska would find an answer to extend the match.

Amber Rolfzen got a kill to fight off the first match point, and then combined with Hunter to shut down Lee’s cross-court attempt and get a block on Penn State’s second and final match point. Two kills from Foecke later, including a perfectly placed tip on set point, and the Huskers were back in control.

Next up for Nebraska is another familiar foe in Washington, with the Elite Eight matchup set for 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Devaney. The matchup will be the seventh time the Huskers take on the Huskies in NCAA action, and will mark the third consecutive season the two teams will meet in postseason play. Nebraska has eliminated Washington from the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons.

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