After the #6-seed Stanford Cardinal upset the #2-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first match of the night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, the #1-seed Nebraska Huskers met the #4-seed Texas Longhorns for the right to take on the Cardinal Saturday night in the National Championship match. Both underdogs came through as Texas ended the Huskers’ season 0-3 (18-25, 23-25, 21-25).
Texas started the scoring as Kelly Hunter’s first serve found the net. However, the Huskers got the ball right back and then Mikaela Foecke aced the Longhorns to put the Huskers up 2-1.
The Husker advantage was short-lived, however, as Texas took the next two points to go up 3-2.
Although the teams traded kills shortly, Texas opened up a 7-4 lead which led to Nebraska’s first timeout of the set.
Andie Malloy score for the Huskers out of the timeout, and then the Huskers battled back to tie the set at 9-9.
Texas quickly re-opened the lead, getting to a 14-10 advantage before serving long to give the Huskers the point and the serve.
The Huskers closed to within two at 17-15 Longhorns, but Texas quickly pushed their lead to four again at 19-15.
Nebraska couldn’t close the gap on Texas in the opening set and late, Texas opened the lead to 23-18 on an ace serve, forcing the second and final Nebraska timeout of the set.
A Kadie Rolfzen hitting error gave Texas the first set point, and the Longhorns capitalized on it immediately, taking the first set 25-18.
Nebraska was far outpaced by Texas in the first set, .323 to .108. Mikaela Foecke converted all four of her swings to kills, but other Husker attackers struggled to find the floor. The Huskers also had four service errors in the first set.
A long rally to start the second set resulted in a Nebraska point as the Texas attack just missed wide. Mikaela Foecke then recorded her second ace of the night to give the Huskers the early 2-0 lead.
The Huskers opened the lead to 3-0 after another long, hard-fought point. However, Texas then used a 3-0 run to tie the set at three apiece.
Texas took their first lead of the set at 5-4, but Nebraska went on a 2-0 run to re-take the lead 6-5.
With Kelly Hunter on the line, Nebraska used another two-point run to open the gap to 10-8.
The Husker lead didn’t last long, as errors by the Big Red gave Texas the one-point lead back at 13-12. It was the same one-point advantage Texas held at the media timeout, 15-14.
Foecke’s first hitting error of the night put Texas up 16-14, but the Huskers closed the gap and tied the score at 16 after a Foecke kill and a Briana Holman/Kelly Hunter block.
Texas took the next point to retake the one-point lead, and kept that lead, eventually leading to the first Husker timeout of the set trailing 19-18.
Briana Holman came up big out of the timeout, playing a ball off the Texas defense for the kill and another tie score.
Texas blocked Amber Rolfzen on a slide to take a two-point lead at 22-20. The teams traded sideouts, and Nebraska used their final timeout of the set trailing 23-21.
Mikaela Foecke got the point out of the timeout with a kill, but Amber Rolfzen missed her serve in the net, giving Texas their first set point. A Briana Holman kill meant they’d have to wait a little longer, but on the next point, the Husker block landed out of bounds, giving the set to Texas, 25-23.
Nebraska was hitting .150 through two sets while Texas was hitting .276. Texas also had six blocks to two for the Huskers. Briana Holman was hitting .462 and Mikaela Foecke was hitting .357 after two.
Texas scored the first point of the third set, but Nebraska answered right away to tie the score and then took advantage of sloppy Texas play to take the 2-1 lead.
Texas took away whatever momentum the Huskers were building quickly, going on a 5-0 run to open up a 6-2 lead and force the Huskers to use their first timeout early in the third set.
A Nebraska point out of the timeout stopped the Texas run, but the Huskers could not close the gap on the Longhorns. The teams went point-for-point until a Hunter kill closed the Huskers to within two at 11-9. It didn’t last long though, as Texas then scored two straight of their own to take a 13-9 lead.
Nebraska again used a two-point run to close the score this time to 15-13, but what should’ve been an easy point on messy Texas serve-receive somehow fell on Nebraska’s side, giving the point to Texas.
However, Nebraska then went on another two-point run to close the score to 16-15 and force the first Texas timeout of the third set.
Texas scored three out of the timeout to push their lead to four again, leading to the final Nebraska timeout of the set trailing 19-15.
A Mikaela Foecke attack missed the sideline to give Texas a 20-16 lead, but Coach John Cook challenged the call, and it was overturned, making the score 19-17 Texas. Nebraska scored again to close to 19-18, igniting the Husker fans in attendance, but then Texas scored twice to make the score 21-18 and quiet the red-clad fans.
Texas opened the lead to 23-19, and Nebraska never again got closer. Texas took the set 25-21 and the match 3-0.
Nebraska hit .182 for the match, led by 13 kills from Mikaela Foecke who hit .333. Briana Holman added nine to hit .238.
The Huskers actually outdug the Longhorns 52-50. Kadie Rolfzen had 14 digs while Justine Wong-Orantes had 11.
The blocking wasn’t even close, with Texas stopping 10 Husker attacks and Nebraska only blocking Texas four times.
With the score 18-15 Texas in the third set, Kelly Hunter set a slide (a set to the middle attacker at the right antenna) that fell the floor without a Husker making an effort for the ball. That was kind of indicative of the night for the Huskers. There were moments of brilliance, to be sure, but Texas looked more prepared, more focused, and more determined throughout the match.
This certainly was not the send-off that Husker fans envisioned for the seniors, nor the seniors for themselves. Nebraska was the #1 team in the country most of the season, and earned the #1 seed in the tournament. The Huskers had also notched back-to-back sweeps of Texas, but Texas simply looked better in this match.
The team next year will look a lot different. Let the speculation begin about the outside next year opposite Foecke. Will it be Olivia Boender? Should we have seen Boender tonight on a night when Malloy was hitting in the negatives most of the night? We can assume Lauren Stivrins will play middle next season opposite Holman, but beyond that, little is certain.
While it’s not the end of the season the fans had hoped for, it was a fantastic season for the Huskers. Unfortunately, national title number five will have to wait.