Our beloved Nebraska volleyball team was down two sets to Penn State, with the Nittany Lions ahead 24-22 in the third set when they staged a comeback for the ages, winning the third set, then taking the next two to win the match in five sets, eliminated Penn State and advancing to the Elite Eight in the 2016 NCAA Volleyball tournament!
If that seems like a long, run-on sentence, then perhaps it is, but it fits the attitude and bravado of the match by both teams as fans witnessed some of the longest rallies and the finest sportsin’ around in quite a while. Both teams battled, dug, and killed everything they could.
Nebraska jumped out to early leads in the first two sets only to see Penn State come back and win 23-25, 23-25.
In the third set, all hope seemed lost but Penn State failed to close the sale and our beloved Huskers reeled off four straight points to win 26-24. In the fourth set, Nebraska got out to a strong 19-10 lead, Penn State tried to come back, but the Huskers would say NO, and outlasted their disliked opponent 25-19.
By the fifth set it appeared that Penn State had run out of gas. Nebraska won easily 15-6. Briana Holman finished with 17 kills to lead Nebraska.
The Huskers hit .256 led by Holman’s 17 kills. Holman hit .583 for the match. Her opposite, Amber Rolfzen added 15 kills, hitting .345.
Penn State outblocked the Huskers 17-14.5. The Huskers were led by Briana Holman’s two solo blocks and five block assists. Justine Wong-Orantes and Kadie Rolfzen both had 18 digs in a match when Nebraska needed every single dig to slightly outpace the Nittany Lions 78-75.
These teams know each other well, and Penn State outside hitter Simone Lee had the best performance against Nebraska we’ve seen in the three matches this year. When the Huskers dropped the first two sets after being up 22-20 and then 22-19, it felt like deja vu when Penn State ran off five straight to overcome the 22-19 Husker lead in the third to take matchpoint at 24-22.
It’s near impossible to overestimate how much that kind of a set loss deflates a team’s confidence. Penn State had Nebraska dead to rights in that set to sweep the #1-seed out of the tournament, but having Mikaela Foecke up front and Annika Albrecht on the service line made a HUGE difference for the Huskers. The 4-0 run at the end of that set essentially sealed the match for Nebraska, even though they still trailed 2-1 in the match at that point.
It’s hard to point to any one thing, but it seemed that the Husker offense struggled to adjust to the Penn State blocking. Ali Franti and and Simone Lee had the backside attacks figured out, taking away the bread-and-butter cross-court shot for most of the match. The Huskers failed to adjust and nearly lost because of it.
As was mentioned repeatedly in the broadcast, Nebraska has probably the toughest road to Columbus, Ohio. It’s likely that Arizona will lose to Washington, so Nebraska will have to take down the Pac-12 Champion to earn a berth in the Final Four. Defense will keep them in it and, while the offensive numbers ultimately look good, the adjustments have to come quicker and the Huskers have to terminate better early against a team whose seed may well be too low.
The Huskers will take on the winner of the Washington-Arizona match at 3 PM Central on Saturday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln. The match will be televised on ESPNU, the first of the four Regional Finals.