The 14-seed Husker Women’s Volleyball team played the BYU Cougars to cap off a day of Regional Finals in the NCAA Volleyball tournament in Seattle, Washington. The Husker season ended in a sweep at the hands of the unseeded Cougars (21-25, 20-25, 21-25)
The Huskers started strong, opening up a three-point lead on the Cougars in set one, but BYU fought back to take the lead 12-11 on strong blocking and smart shot placement. The teams traded points until the media timeout with the score BYU 15, Nebraska 14.
The teams continued to trade points, with BYU keeping the narrow advantage, until BYU opened up a two-point lead at 20-18, forcing a Husker timeout. BYU earned two straight points out of the timeout, and forced another Husker timeout with the score 22-18 Cougars.
The Huskers took the next two points, including an ugly mistake by the Cougars, to force BYU’s first timeout with the Huskers still trailing 22-20. BYU put the pressure back on the Huskers out of the timeout and ultimately took the set 25-21.
Set two started similarly for the Huskers as Nebraska opened up the two-point lead early on, 3-1. A 4-0 BYU run gave the Cougars a 7-5 lead and forced the first Husker timeout of the set.
BYU pushed the lead to 8-5 before Meghan Haggerty terminated at the net for a Husker point, but BYU managed to hit around and through the Husker blocks, not allowing Nebraska to fight back into the set.
A long rally won by BYU opened the lead to 14-10 Cougars, and led to the second and final timeout of the set for Nebraska.
The Huskers tied the set up using a 4-0 run out of the timeout to tie it at 14. The teams traded points, but the Huskers did retake the lead briefly 17-16, but BYU went on a 4-0 run to once again open up a three-point advantage. BYU extended the advantage to four points and eventually five to take the second set 25-20.
Set three started off tighter than either of the other two, with both teams holding single-point advantages, but neither team gaining a greater advantage until BYU took a 13-11 lead on Jennifer Hansom’s serve. The lead extended to 14-11 Cougars when the Huskers took their first timeout of the third set.
BYU maintained and extended the lead. The Huskers seemed to have no answer for the block and attack of the Cougars. BYU took a 19-14 lead, which led to the second Husker timeout of the set.
The Huskers began to put together a run, closing the gap to 20-17 BYU and forcing a Cougar timeout. The Huskers got to within two, 20-18, before BYU got the serve back. BYU then opened the advantage to four again, and won the set by the same margin, 25-21. The sweep ended the Huskers’ season.
The Huskers were outhit by the Cougars .236-.173 for the match. Amber Rolfzen led the way for the Huskers with 11 kills, but only hit .185. Cecilia Hall (.250) and Melanie Keil (1.00) were the only Husker hitters with numbers above .200, but Keil only played in the final set, replacing a struggling Meghan Haggerty.
Justine Wong-Orantes had 22 digs for the night, leading the way for the Husker defense. The Huskers actually outdug the Cougars by a wide margin, 70-57, but the Huskers couldn’t finish those points.
While service errors came for the Huskers at key times, the Huskers only had four errant serves for the match, one more than BYU. BYU had four aces to Nebraska’s two.
As was repeatedly mentioned in the ESPNU broadcast, BYU was the best blocking team in the country. On the night, the Huskers had 8 blocks, and BYU had 12. The Huskers struggled to effectively block the dangerous Cougar hitters consistently on the night. While the Huskers scored quite a few points by tooling the Cougar block, BYU’s offense was almost unstoppable, and the Cougars effectively adjusted their blocking.
A few things that had been problems for the Huskers through the better part of the conference schedule reared their heads again. In addition to suspect blocking, defense was inconsistent. Even though the Huskers dug a lot of balls, there were a lot of errors defensively with the Huskers overpassing and giving BYU free kill chances. There were also too many times where the Huskers didn’t get a hand on a ball.
While it was a disappointing end to the season for the Huskers, this was a deeper post-season run than most would have expected. In the course of the season, the Huskers lost inexplicable matches to teams like Michigan while demolishing teams like Purdue. The team played at a consistently high level through the first three matches of the tournament, but BYU took advantage of some weaknesses that Hofstra, Utah, and Washington couldn’t exploit
The Huskers will only graduate one senior, Setter Mary Pollmiller, it’s an important position. This team is poised to be very dangerous next year, and for a couple of years to come, with a young team, but a young team with experience.