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Nebraska Volleyball: Husker Flip the Script, Climb Out of the Gopher Hole

The Huskers went down 2-0 in Minneapolis to the Golden Gophers, before Kelsey Fien swooped in to pull the Huskers out of the hole.

David McGee

The Huskers took a midweek trip to Minneapolis to take on the 25th ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Huskers returned home with a 3-2 (21-25, 16-25, 25-21, 25-19, 15-7) victory.

Your friendly neighborhood volleyball writer’s team had practice tonight, and the first set was nearly over by the time he’d settled in front of the TV. Okay, enough third person.

The Huskers opened up a small lead, but for the early part of the set, neither team could open up any kind of an advantage.

Eventually, the Golden Gophers opened up a 14-10 lead and Nebraska used their first timeout of the second. Out of the timeout, Nebraska couldn’t get any closer, and Coach Cook took his second timeout with the score 18-13 Gophers.

Minnesota opened the lead to 21-14 before an errant tip gave the Big Red a quick reprieve, but errors doomed the Huskers in set two. Through two sets, the Huskers had committed six service errors. The Gophers finished on a run of three straight points to win it 25-16.

The Huskers had 14 attacking errors through two sets, far too many against a top rated program.

The third set started off in much the same way as the second, with neither team opening up much of an advantage in the early going. The score stayed within one until Minnesota opened up a three-point lead 11-8 and forcing the first Nebraska timeout.

A 4-1 run by the Huskers forced Minnesota to use a timeout with the score 16-15 Gophers. Out of the timeout, the Huskers kept the momentum and opened up a lead of 19-17, but a kill and service ace by Minnesota tied it again at 19.

Kelsey Fien basically took this match over coming off the match for the Huskers. She had three straight kills to open the Husker lead up to 22-19 and force Minnesota’s second timeout of the third set.

The Huskers kept the pressure on out of the timeout, and ultimately won the set 25-21.

Minnesota opened up an early 2-0 lead in the fourth, but Nebraska fought back quickly and took a 4-3 lead. The lead stayed small, but with an 8-5 Husker lead, Minnesota Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon called the first timeout of the fourth.

Out of the timeout, Kelsey Fien continued to do what she’d done in the third set. Pollmiller helped with smart serving, including an ace, and the Huskers opened up a six-point advantage leading to the second, and final timeout for Minnesota with the Huskers up 15-9.

The Huskers opened up a 9-point lead, 23-14, before the Gophers ran off three and forced a Husker timeout with the score 23-17 Huskers. A well-timed call, as momentum at the end of a set can be key in a match, especially with a deciding set on deck.

The Minnesota run stopped with a service error, giving the Huskers set point, 24-18. The teams traded points and the Huskers took the set 25-19.

Minnesota found an answer to Fien in the fifth recording their first block against her in the match to take a 2-0 lead early in the second set. The Huskers kept it close and took their first lead of the set on a Kadie Rolfzen serve at 6-5.

The Huskers went up 7-5, but Minnesota took the next two to tie it up. A Meghan Haggerty kill gave the Huskers the lead by a point when the teams switched ends of the court at 8-7 Huskers.

Cecilia Hall put down the over-pass by Minnesota and the Gophers used their first timeout of the set trailing 9-7. Alexa Ethridge’s serves resulted in one ace, and two more easy points to the Huskers, including the Hall kill on the over-pass, and the Huskers force a second timeout by Minnesota with the Huskers holding a 12-7 lead.

After trading ends in the set, it looked like the Huskers could do no wrong. Alexa Ethridge served seven consecutive points to put the match away for the Huskers, taking the fifth 15-7.

KELSEY FRICKEN (Cleaned up for Yahoo…) FIEN! Bringing her in for Ostrander in the third set energized the Huskers and baffled the Gophers. She single-handedly forced the fifth set. Fien hit .500 for the match.

Another somewhat unsung hero of the night was Annika Albrecht. She recorded five kills on five attempts out of the backrow to hit 1.000 for the night.

Kadie Rolfzen led the team in kills with 17, though Fien recorded 14 in two and a half fewer sets. Rolfzen also had 14 digs, recording another double-double.

Mary Pollmiller led all Husker servers with two aces, though Kadie Rolfzen and Alexa Ethridge had one apiece. However, it wasn’t all good news from the service line, as the Huskers had 12 errors.

After trailing badly in hitting percentage early, the Huskers ended up outhitting the Golden Gophers .244 - .198. The Huskers had nine more kills, and three more digs than Minnesota. The Huskers also had 12 total blocks to Minnesota’s 11.

This was the fourth consecutive season that these two teams have gone to five in The Sports Pavilion in Minnesota. This was also Nebraska’s third five-set match of the year. It was the first five-set win of the season for the Big Red.

This match took a HUGE swing midway through the third set. Prior to Kelsey Fien entering, Nebraska looked dead to rights and many of the concerns about the team came to light.

Minnesota used a lot of off speed attacks (tips and roll shots) in the first two sets to eat up the Husker defense. This isn’t something that a lot of teams have tried to do against the Huskers, and it seemed to work really well. On more than one occasion, shots that looked like they should be easy to dig fell to a place where there simply wasn’t a defender.

As was mentioned repeatedly by Liz Tortorello-Nelson on the BTN telecast, Nebraska struggled to get the middles going today. Well, we’ve played Meghan Haggerty, Cecilia Hall, Kira Larson, and Melanie Keil at the position. It seems random, at times, who’s going to get to play. As we’ve mentioned previously here, consistency is key to building the team and building confidence.

Add to that a continued of leadership on this team and one can only be left to say… Welp! In all seriousness, this team performs like a middle of the road B1G team. While matches like Penn State and Northwestern give us hope, and sometimes GREAT hope, matches like Michigan, Illinois, and now Minnesota give more cause for concern.

The other problem, and this piggy backs off of the leadership issue, is composure. There is no excuse for missing the number of serves this team missed early tonight. It was nice to see that cleaned up as the night went on, but it’s a hole we shouldn’t have been in.

Tortorello-Nelson also brought up one of the things that we’ve lost since losing Robo and that’s the ability to get kills on out-of-system balls. It’s something we haven’t seen this year from anyone.

There have even been concerning wins this year, Michigan State and Creighton come to mind. Admittedly, any B1G team should be a competitive team, and Creighton was just outside the top 25 at the time, but these are matches that we should have been able to win more handily.

However, this win, as bi-polar as it was, was a big win for a young, inexperienced Husker squad. Being able to win on the road against a ranked opponent is big. Putting yourself in a position where every set is a must-win in that situation is nearly impossible to overcome, but the Huskers did it with aplomb. That kind of resolve hasn’t really been evident this season.

As much praise as will be, deservedly, heaped on Kelsey Fien, it has to be accompanied with a sense of trepidation. We’ve done this before and then absolutely crapped the bed in the next match. However, what this team has needed was to learn to overcome adversity. This is the best job they’ve done of that this season.

I’m going to get frank here. While this might sound like a critique of the girls, I mean this as a critique of the coaches. The Rolfzens are not ready for the pressure that is being put on them. The Huskers went on a great run with Kelsey Fien in the front row, but as soon as she was out, the momentum faded.

The announcers pointed out that they are not able to put balls away out of system but for girls as touted as these two, that should be a skill that they’ve had since high school. It’s a skill I teach my players (I coach in a school that has 180 students K-12). Only once has the coaching staff pulled Kadie or Amber this season. I’d be interested to see what Ostrander/Fien at outside would look like.