Sunday afternoon, the Bob Devaney Sports Center played host to a top-3 match up as the #3 Minnesota Golden Gophers were in Lincoln to take on the #1 Nebraska Huskers Womens’ Volleyball Team. It was a long, hard-fought match from which the Huskers prevailed 3-2 (24-26, 25-18, 26-24, 22-25, 15-8).
The Huskers started the match with a Mikaela Foecke/Briana Holman block to take the first point, but Minnesota answered immediately, and the early part of the match was the teams trading tie scores and one-point leads.
An Amber Rolfzen block gave the Huskers a 5-3 lead. After briefly trading sideouts, Foecke extended the lead to 8-5 with a kills down the line that led to the first Minnesota timeout of the set. The Huskers took two more points out of the timeout to make the lead 10-5 before an Annika Albrecht serve missed long.
The Gophers replied in kind, however, and a Minnesota service error gave the ball back to the Huskers with a five-point advantage.
A clever play by Briana Holman when the Huskers were out-of-system saw the ball drop deep in the corner on the Minnesota side and extend the Husker lead to six, 13-7. The next play, a Holman attack found the floor off of the Minnesota block to make the score 14-7 Nebraska, and force the second, and final, Gopher timeout of the set.
Minnesota put together a three-point run after the timeout to close the score to 14-10 Huskers before Nebraska used their first timeout of the set.
Minnesota kept the drive alive after the timeout, taking the next point, but Kadie Rolfzen put a ball down cross-court to put Mikaela Foecke on the line with the Husker serve.
With the Huskers up 18-13, Minnesota put together another run, closing the score to 18-17 Nebraska before the Huskers used their second timeout of the set.
MInnesota tied the score at 18 after the timeout on an attack error cause by a bad set by the Huskers. Mikaela Foecke finally ended the 5-0 Gopher run with a kill off the arm of the Minnesota block.
A two-point Husker run made the score 21-19 Nebraska, but Minnesota fought back to tie the score again at 22 and take the lead 23-22.
Again the Huskers looked to Mikaela Foecke to turn the momentum to the Huskers’ favor, and she answered, tying the score at 23.
Minnesota won the next point and got their first setpoint, 24-23. However, Holman and Kadie Rolfzen blocked the Minnesota attack to tie the score again at 24. Minnesota took the next two points, however, to take the set 26-24.
Though the Nebraska attack and floor defense looked great early on, allowing the Huskers to open up the seven-point lead, Minnesota’s defense and attack looked much better in the second half of the set and the Huskers struggled to adjust. Early in the set, the Huskers were hitting .562 to .000 for Minnesota.
By the end of set one, Nebraska was hitting .227 while Minnesota was hitting .256. The Huskers had double the hitting errors, eight, compared to the Gophers, four. Mikaela Foecke was the most effective Husker attacker with five kills on ten swings with one error to hit .400. Amber Rolfzen had four kills of her own on seven swings to hit .571.
Briana Holman started off the second set strong for the Huskers with an out-of-system, improvised kill. However, the subsequent Nebraska set was in the net. It ignited a 3-0 run for the Golden Gophers.
Nebraska had a two-point run of their own to tie the score at three, and the Huskers re-took the lead at 5-4.
Nebraska score five of the next seven points as well, to extend the lead over Minnesota to 10-6. The run resulted in Minnesota using the first timeout of the second set. Nebraska kept the run alive, scoring to extend the lead to 11-6 after the timeout.
As in the first set, though Minnesota made some plays, the Huskers kept the pressure on and extended the lead further. In a near repeat of set one, Minnesota used their second timeout trailing by seven, though this time the score was 15-8 Nebraska.
Minnesota score two quick points out of the timeout, but the Huskers scored again to maintain their lead.
The teams traded points with the Huskers holding on to their advantage, until a Minnesota kill made the score 19-15 Nebraska, prompting the first Husker timeout of the set.
Minnesota closed to within three at 20-17 Huskers, but the Huskers took three consecutive points with Foecke serving to extend the lead back to six. Minnesota stopped the run, but an Andie Malloy kill followed by one from Amber Rolfzen ended the set for the Huskers 25-18.
In the second set, the Huskers committed only two hitting errors while forcing four for the Gophers. Foecke had six more kills to push her total for the match to 11, hitting .429.
Minnesota score point one of the third set, but the Huskers took the next two to take a 2-1 lead.
The teams traded the lead at one point apiece with two-point runs, but the the Huskers began to find their flow and opened it up to a two-point advantage at 7-5. However, an ace by Gopher middle Paige Tapp tied the score again at eight.
A Foecke kill followed by a Holman kill re-opened the two-point advantage for the Huskers, 10-8.
The Big Red made the lead 13-10, but the Gophers closed back to 13-12. The teams traded sideouts to the media timeout with the Huskers leading 15-13.
The Huskers extended the lead to three at 16-13, but Minnesota used a 4-1 run to tie the set at 17, leading to the first Husker timeout of the third set.
Briana Holman tipped the ball to the floor for a kill after the timeout to regain the lead for the Huskers, but Minnesota tied it up with the next rally.
After Minnesota tied it at 18, Nebraska Coach John Cook challenged the fact that Minnesota had not been called in the net on the previous point. The challenge paid off for Nebraska, and the score was changed to 19-17 Huskers.
The teams traded the next two points and Minnesota used their first timeout of the third set.
Nebraska held on to the advantage and when Minnesota scored to cut the lead to 20-19 Nebraska, Coach Cook once again challenged what he perceived as a missed net violation against the Gophers. While the video shown in Devaney seemed to show there was no way the Gophers were out of the net, the net also didn’t move at all in the replay so, much like in football, the call was allowed to stand.
Minnesota scored the next two with a block and then a kill to take the lead back from the Huskers, 21-20, and force Nebraska to use their second timeout of the set.
Minnesota pushed the run to 4-0, taking a 22-20 lead before Briana Holman scored for the Huskers. However, Minnesota answered with two more to earn their first set point, 24-21.
Nebraska would not go away quietly, however, and held strong for the next two points, forcing Minnesota’s final timeout with the score 24-23 Gophers.
Nebraska scored with a block on the next point, but Minnesota Coach Hugh McCutcheon challenged the call, proposing that Minnesota had gotten the ball up, rather than the successful block. However, replay showed the ball was down, and the point stayed with the Huskers. Kadie Rolfzen took advantage and aced the next serve to give Nebraska set point. The Huskers made good and an Amber Rolfzen/Kelly Hunter block ended the set for the Huskers, 26-24.
The Huskers hit .174 to .098 for the Gophers in the third set, led by five kills by Briana Holman, who was hitting .500 through three.
Minnesota scored the first three of the fourth set, a lead Nebraska couldn’t overcome in the early going. In fact, Minnesota opened the lead to 6-2 which led to an early timeout by the Huskers.
Amber Rolfzen spurred a two-point run for the Huskers after the timeout with a kill and a block, but Kadie’s next serve was in the net, making the score 7-4 Gophers.
Nebraska briefly cut the Minnesota lead to one at 9-8 Gophers, but Minnesota then ran four more points together to take a 13-8 lead and force the final Husker timeout of the set.
It didn’t better for Nebraska after the timeout, with Minnesota going on a 5-2 run to take an 18-10 lead. At that point, Olivia Boender saw her first action of the weekend, to the delight of the 8,363 fans in attendance. Boender was effective immediately, recording a kill on the first point she played, igniting a brief Husker rally, and with the score 18-13 Gophers, Minnesota used their first timeout of the set.
The Golden Gophers regained the momentum after the timeout, but Nebraska didn’t go away. The Huskers closed to 21-16, and then 22-19, forcing the second Gopher timeout of the set.
Minnesota controlled the rest of the set, though again, Nebraska didn’t go away easily. Minnesota took a 23-19 lead, then earned their first set point at 24-20, but the Huskers made Minnesota earn the set with the final score of the set 25-22 Gophers.
Minnesota hit .258 against .237 for the Huskers in the set. The Husker were led by three kills each from the middles with Amber Rolfzen hitting .400 and Briana Holman hitting .500.
The momentum gained at the end of the set paid off for the Huskers as the fifth set was never really in question. The Huskers opened up a 5-0 lead out of the box and Wisconsin never got within three. The Huskers hit .316 to -.087 from Minnesota.
Justine Wong-Orantes set the new Nebraska record for digs in a match on the day with 35 individual digs. The only other Husker with double-digit digs was Kadie Rolfzen with ten. Nebraska had 77 digs for the afternoon against 72 for Minnesota.
Mikaela Foecke had 20 kills against Minnesota and hit .298 for the Huskers. Both middles had great days offensively as well, with Amber Rolfzen getting 16 kills and hitting .519, and Briana Holman posting 17 terminations to hit .467.
Briana Holman had a double-double for the Huskers with ten total blocks (1 solo, 9 assists) and Amber Rolfzen added six blocks of her own (3 solo, 3 assists) to aid the Husker defense. The team had 17 total blocks.
While there were moments that the Huskers seemed to lack a little bit of spark, the defense for the team was a strength. Coach Cook mentioned that there a matches that this team wins on individual talent, but this match was a total team win for the Huskers, with everyone playing their role to make the team better.
This weekend, and this match in particular, had a Final Four like feel according to Coach John Cook, with Final Four caliber teams. Minnesota has proven to be one of the nation’s best this season, and this win gave the Huskers sole possession of first place in the conference. On a night when outside hitters Malloy and Kadie Rolfzen struggled, the middle blockers, Holman and Amber Rolfzen, came up huge for the team.
While the loss to Ohio State created a little uncertainty as far as how good this team really is, this weekend answered any of those questions and should alleviate any lingering concern. Penn State was also beginning to return to traditional form, but the Nittany Lions, a team Nebraska sees twice in November, fell to Michigan over the weekend.
Next Friday, the Huskers have the Illinois Fighting Illini coming to Lincoln for a 6:00 PM Central match that will be aired on BTN and BTN2Go.com. Next Saturday will have the Northwestern Wildcats at 7:00 PM Central on NET TV and BTN2Go.com.