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Husker Volleyball Moves on to Seattle by Defeating Utah

It took five sets, but the Husker Women's Volleyball team advanced to the regional rounds of the NCAA tournament, defeating the Utah Utes 3-2 (25-23, 25-22, 23-25, 17-25, 15-11) on Saturday night at the Bob Devaney Sports Center

Second round NCAA volleyball tournament action at the Bob Devaney Sports Center pitted the University of Utah Utes against the University of Nebraska Huskers. Utah decisively defeated the Kansas State Wildcats in round one while Nebraska had to fight to sweep the Hofstra Pride. It took all five sets, but the Huskers pulled out the 3-2 (25-23, 25-22, 23-25, 17-25, 15-11) win over the Utes.

Utah opened up a quick 4-1 lead and forced the first Husker timeout of the set. The Utes were playing fast and around the Husker block and defense in the early part of the set. A Kadie Rolfzen kill and Justine Wong-Orantes ace changed the momentum. The blocking came alive and the Utah serve-receive had no answer for Wong-Orantes’s serve. The Huskers opened up a 5-4 lead before a Utah sideout.

The teams traded points briefly, but the Huskers went on a roll again on Kadie Rolfzen’s serve and opened up at 10-7 lead forcing Utah’s first timeout of the set.

Utah pulled within one again, but when Justine Wong-Orantes got back to serve, the Huskers opened the lead again to 17-13 and forced the second Utah timeout of the set.

Utah pulled back within two at 20-18, but the Huskers took the next two points to take what appeared to be a commanding lead. However, the Utes closed the gap to one point, 23-22 and forced Coach Cook to use his second, and final, timeout of the first set.

Utah tied it up at 23 when Kelsey Fien smoked an attack into the Ute bench, leading to Alicia Ostrander being inserted for her. The Utes’ next serve went deep, and a Mary Pollmiller kill gave the Huskers the set 25-23.

The Utes actually outhit the Huskers .412-.237 in the first set. The difference in the set was serving. Nebraska had three aces and no errors, and Utah had three errors and no aces. Wong-Orantes had two aces, and Annika Albrecht had one.

Kadie Rolfzen led the way for the Husker hitters, with six kills on twelve attempts with no errors to hit .500. Both Meghan Haggerty and Mary Pollmiller hit .500 as well, and Kelsey Fien added three kills on ten attempts with one error to hit .200.

Utah’s Carly Trueman was 3-for-3 in the first set, and hit 1.000.

Utah opened up an early lead again in the second set, extending the advantage to 6-2 before Amber Rolfzen recorded her first kill of the night.

The Huskers tied the score at seven courtesy of strong blocking, Ute errors, and clever play by Pollmiller. The Huskers kept the momentum going and opened the lead to 10-8 after Utah mishandled a free ball from Mary Pollmiller.

The Huskers maintained a lead of 3-4 points until Utah clawed back to within one with the score 23-22 and Coach Cook used his first timeout of the set. The next Ute serve was out of bounds and gave the Huskers their first set point at 24-22. Utah didn’t even make an attempt on the Albrecht serve, and Nebraska took the set 25-22.

Through two sets, the Utes were leading in nearly every statistical category, outhitting (.361-.269), outdigging (29-22), outblocking (4.0-2.0) the Huskers and having 35 kills to Nebraska’s 29. The only category, besides the score, where Nebraska held an advantage was serving. The Huskers had four aces to Utah’s one, and Utah had six errant serves to Nebraska’s one. Annika Albrecht recorded her second ace in set two.

Kelsey Fien had nine kills with three errors on 23 attempts to hit .261 through two sets. Kadie Rolfzen had seven kills with one error on 22 attempts and was hitting .273. Meghan Haggerty (.667) and Mary Pollmiller (.545) had almost unbelievable numbers, but have significantly fewer attempts.

Nebraska came out fast in the second set, opening up an early 4-1 lead on the Utes. Nebraska maintained the lead for quite awhile, but Utah eventually fought back into the set, tying it at eleven and forcing Coach Cook’s first timeout of the set.

Utah kept the run alive out of the timeout, opening a two-point lead, 13-11, on the Huskers. Utah opened the lead up to 18-14 on the Huskers and forced Coach Cook to use his final timeout of the third set.

The Utah lead increased to as much as five, but the Huskers found some fight of their own, and began to close the deficit and forced a Utah timeout with the Utes leading 22-19.

Utah’s first set point came with the score 24-20, but the Huskers kept fighting, forcing Utah’s second timeout with the score 24-22 Utes. Nebraska made it interesting, and brought the Devaney crowd to its collective feet, by getting to within one, but an attack by Kadie Rolfzen that just missed the sideline gave the set to Utah 25-23.

After three sets, both Kadie Rolfzen (.171) and Kelsey Fien (.276) had twelve kills, but Fien had four errors and 29 attempts while Rolfzen had six errors and 35 attempts.

The Huskers were out hit .216 to .156 in the third set, and Utah still held the advantage in every statistical category except for blocks (6.0-5.0 Nebraska) and serving, where Nebraska had fewer errors (2 v. 8) and more aces (5 v. 2).

The fourth set stayed essentially tied until Utah opened up an 8-4 lead and forced the first Husker timeout. The Huskers continued to struggle, however, and Utah opened the lead up to 13-7, forcing the second Husker timeout of the fourth.

The Huskers couldn’t seem to get anything going in the fourth set. Out of the second Husker timeout, Utah’s run continued, with the Utes ticking off three more points to push the lead to 16-7 before an Alicia Ostrander kill and Albrecht ace gave the Huskers some life.

The Huskers closed the gap to 16-10 before a scary back injury to Utah’s setter, Kalee Kirby, silenced the crowd and saw the stretcher rolled out on the floor. To the relief of everyone in attendance, however, Kirby was able to walk off the court with assistance from the Utah training staff.

Losing the setter who had stymied the Huskers all night didn’t slow the Utah attack down. Out of the injury, Utah took control of the momentum in the match and opened up a nine-point lead on the Huskers, 22-13. The Huskers put together a run and forced the Utes to use their first timeout of the set leading 22-16.

The Huskers never got any closer than six, and Utah took the fourth set 25-17.

The Huskers hit a paltry .030 in the fourth set, while Utah hit .345. Kelsey Fien continued to lead the way with 16 kills and a hitting percentage of .200. The Huskers seemed to lack confidence down the stretch of the set, making mistakes that have been uncharacteristic down the stretch this season.

The Huskers came screaming out of the gate in the fifth and deciding set, and the crowd responded accordingly. After the Huskers’ third point, the crowd leapt to its feet and when Utah called timeout trailing 4-0, the crowd more than made up for the empty seats.

With Nebraska leading 6-3, Kalee Kirby checked back in to serve for the Utes, but the boost didn’t last, and the Huskers took an 8-4 lead as the teams swapped ends of the court.

Utah took the first two points out of the side change to close the gap to two points, and then made it a one-point deficit, forcing the Nebraska timeout with the Huskers leading 9-8.

Two quick Husker points led to Utah using their second, and final, timeout of the deciding set with a three-point Husker advantage, 11-8. Utah never got any closer, and the Huskers took the set and the match, 15-11.

It was one of those quirky matches that sometimes happen in volleyball. Utah led in every statistical category except serving, where the Huskers had more aces, six to Utah’s two, and fewer errors, three to Utah’s eleven. On top of all of that, Utah actually scored one more point through the course of the match than Nebraska did, but the nature of volleyball is that you have to win the sets, and Nebraska did that when it mattered.

Three Huskers had double digit kills for the night. Kelsey Fien (19, .180), Kadie Rolfzen (15, .205), and Mary Pollmiller (10, .474). Overall, the Huskers hit .201 to Utah’s .289.

Kadie Rolfzen added 11 digs to record another double-double, Justine Wong-Orantes had 12, and Amber Rolfzen had 10. Annika Albrecht had seven digs, but added three aces to help the Husker cause.

Utah was one of the hottest teams in the country down the stretch, winning eight of their last nine, and knocking off a Washington team that only lost two on the season. This was a dangerous match for the Huskers, and they found a way to win it. Last season, Coach Cook said that Oregon was the toughest second-round team he’d ever seen. Utah looked better than that tonight.

Playing #3 Washington in Seattle next week presents a huge challenge for this Husker team. The only two matches that Washington has lost this year were on the road at Colorado and Utah, matches played at altitude by a sea level team. Washington is also the only team to have beaten #1-ranked Stanford this season, a win that came in Seattle.

To beat the Huskies, the Huskers will have to play like they did against Purdue in November. It’s a tall task for a team whose youth and inexperience has reared its head at times this year. The match should be televised on ESPN3 with the time next weekend currently TBA.