Photo by Pat Radigan
25-19, 25-22, 25-27, 25-22
Foecke – 18
Holman – 3.0
Maloney – 13
Story by Pat Radigan
Nebraska wipes away any hope of a Wildcat rally with 25-22 win in the fourth set
To make it to a third-consecutive Final Four, which would set a program record, the Nebraska volleyball team needed to deny Kentucky its first ever trip to the national semifinals.
The Wildcats will just have to wait.
Kentucky fought off two match points in the third set, but could not keep Nebraska from history as the Huskers pulled out the win with a 25-22 in the fourth to move on to Kansas City. Four different hitters finished in double figures, and NU needed every last swing to survive a fired-up Wildcat team making its first Elite Eight appearance in 20 years.
Despite dropping its first set of NCAA play, Nebraska didn’t take long to rebound and slam the door on a trip to the Final Four.
Nebraska never trailed in the fourth set, thanks to back-to-back points after Kentucky tied the set at 19. Mikaela Foecke blasted her 18th kill of the match, followed by a double-stuff block by Briana Holman and Jazz Sweet to give NU a two-point edge.
A kill by Kentucky’s Kaz Brown brought UK back within one. Nebraska’s Annika Albrecht answered with a kill of her own, before the “play of the match” sent Kentucky on a short-path to the end. With NU up by two, and just three points from the win, Sweet found herself in a 1-on-1 with fellow freshman Avery Skinner.
Sweet silenced the 4,464 fans with a crushing solo block, and put Nebraska just two points from the regional title with her only solo stuff of the match.
“That was a huge huge play,” said NU coach John Cook. “It might have won it for us right there, just with the emotion of the match.”
Foecke’s 18 kills came on .375 hitting. Nebraska also got 14 kills and 11 digs from Annika Albrecht and 11 kills apiece from Holman and Sweet.
Nebraska hit .326 in the second set to cruise to a 2-0 lead, however, NU was then held to just .174 in the third set to allow Kentucky to get on the board. The Wildcats managed to hit .293 despite Nebraska’s late rally in the set, and rode the 18 kills to a 27-25 win to extend the match.
A kill by Emily Franklin sparked back-to-back points to erase a 24-22 lead for NU, with Kentucky able to win the last three points of the set to put pressure on the Huskers.
It wouldn’t matter. Nebraska, like it has all season, responded with energy in the fourth set and used a balanced effort to advance to next week’s Final Four in Kansas City.
“We’ve known who we are all year, this game just confirmed that for us,” said NU setter Kelly Hunter. “We know we’re a team that can go all the way.”
The Huskers picked up right where they left off in a sweep of Colorado. Nebraska had three aces in the first set and held its opponent under 20 points for the 9th time in 10 sets of NCAA play. Kentucky eclipsed the 20-point mark in the second set, yet still hardly threatened Nebraska as four emphatic blocks kept the momentum in NU’s favor early.
Foecke with 10 kills over those first two sets, and rode her hot hand to Most Outstanding Player honors at the Lexington Regional. Hunter did a little bit of everything, as usual, and finished with 2 kills, 2 aces, 2 blocks and 11 digs. That earned the senior setter a place on the All-Regional team, where she was joined by Albrecht after the impressive double-double.
Nebraska will advance to an All-Big Ten semifinal match, with No. 1 Penn State taking on Michigan State later on Saturday to determine who will face the Huskers in Kansas City.