Saturday night marked the end of the 2017 NCAA Division I Volleyball season at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The championship match saw the #5-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers take on the #2-seeded Florida Gators. The Huskers are National Champions for the second time in three years, beating Florida in front of an NCAA Finals record 18,516 3-1 (25-22, 25-17, 18-25, 25-16).
The Huskers established an unconventional offense early with senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht perfectly placing a backrow attack to put the Huskers up 1-0. Freshman middle blocker Lauren Stivrins scored the next point to give the Huskers an early 2-0 lead. Annika Albrecht served long to put the Gators on the board with the score 2-1 Nebraska.
The teams traded sideouts, but senior middle blocker Briana Holman hit the ball out of bounds to bring the score to tie at three.
Nebraska put together a 4-1 run to go up 7-4 before Florida notched a point and then added another to close to 7-6. Another exchange of serve and extra Gator point tied the score at eight.
Florida took their first lead of the set at 10-9, lead they extended when Albrecht’s attack carried her into the net.
The Gators held the lead 12-10 when Nebraska Head Coach John Cook used the first Husker timeout of the set. The next Gator serve found the net, giving the sideout, and the coach’s point, to the Huskers.
Florida extended their lead to 15-11 on two consecutive kills by Rachel Kramer before an off-speed attack by junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke stopped the Florida run.
With senior setter Kelly Hunter serving, the Huskers used a 4-0 run to tie the set at 15 and force the first Florida timeout of the opening set. Nebraska then added three more points before an errant ball into the antenna gave the serve to Florida.
As the set went on, Florida fought back at tied the score at 22 before sailing a serve long to give the Huskers the serve with junior libero Kenzie Maloney on the service line. The next Florida attack went wide to give the Huskers set point at 24-22 when Florida used their final timeout of the first set.
The Huskers sealed the first set on their first shot at it, taking the set 25-22. Both teams had abysmal attacking numbers in the first set, with the Huskers hitting .081 to .025 for Florida. Foecke led the Huskers with five kills and hit .214.
Set two started with a Kelly Hunter point and then a Holman-Foecke block putting the Huskers up 2-0. Briana Holman followed that up with a kill to give the Huskers a 3-0 start to the second set.
Florida sided out to make the score 3-1, but the Huskers answered to make the score 4-1.
The advantage didn’t last long for the Huskers, as Florida fought back to within one at 5-4. The teams traded sideouts for a bit at that margin with the Huskers holding the edge until senior defensive specialist Sydney Townsend went back to serve. The 3-0 Husker run made the score 9-5 Big Red.
Nebraska extended the lead to 12-7 to force the first Florida timeout of the second set.
The rally out of the timeout was a long one, ultimately won by Florida, but a net violation by the Gators on the next play gave the Huskers the serve and maintained the Nebraska lead.
The Husker lead grew to 17-10 before the Gators strung two together to close the gap. That 5-point lead was short-lived as the Huskers answered back, taking the next two to make the score 19-12 Nebraska and force the final Gator timeout of the set.
Albrecht recorded her third kill of the night out of the timeout to push the Husker lead to 20-12. A Florida hitting error made it 21-12.
Another Gator hitting error made the score 23-14 Huskers, but the Gators contended that a touch had been missed on the block, so Coach Mary Wise challenged the call. It was good challenge, as there was a touch on replay. It made the score 22-15 Nebraska.
Foecke left no doubt on the next point, burying an errant dig to put the Huskers up 23-15. Florida took the next two points to close to 23-17 and lead to a Husker timeout.
Florida hit the next ball out of bounds to give the Huskers their first set point 24-17. Foecke again took care of business and the Huskers took the set 25-17.
Nebraska hit .417 in the second to bring their overall hitting to a respectable .247. Foecke was still leading the way with 10 kills and hitting .296. Briana Holman had five kills through two sets and was hitting .444.
After a slight delay to clean up some blood on the court, set three began with a long rally won by the Gators. The subsequent point also fell the Gators, giving them an early 2-0 lead.
Again, Mikaela Foecke came to the rescue, scoring on an overpass to get the Huskers on the scoreboard at 2-1 with Florida leading.
After trading sideouts, the Huskers tied the score at three. The Huskers took the lead for the first time at 5-4, but a Gator kill tied the score at five. The Gators then blocked freshman outside hitter Jazz Sweet to take the lead back, 6-5.
With the score tied at six, Albrecht was called in the net, giving the Gators a 7-6 lead. After a lengthy discussion between the down official and John Cook, the Huskers challenged the call, but the call was upheld, keeping the score 7-6 Gators.
An Albrecht attack missed wide on the next point, extending the Florida lead to 8-6. A block on the next point made the score 9-6 Gators. The next point was a Florida ace, making the score 10-6 Gators and forcing the first Husker timeout of the third set.
Jazz Sweet terminated a ball cross-court to end the Gator run at 4-0, but a Gator kill on the next point put the serve back in Florida’s hands. Florida extended the lead 12-7 before an Albrecht kill put her back on the service line.
Florida held on to their lead as the teams traded serve, but managed to crack the margin open even more at 16-10. Foecke got a kill out of the right side to put herself back to serve and the Huskers managed to tighten it up a bit to 16-12, but Florida then strung together a 3-0 run to make the score 19-12 Gators, forcing the final Husker timeout of the set.
Briana Holman’s first swing of the set came out of the timeout and was a good one for the Huskers, stopping the Gator run. The Huskers could not hold serve, however, and the serve went back to Florida.
Nebraska started to gain momentum late in the set. Florida led 22-15, but Nebraska began to chip away at the lead, serving at least twice for every one Gator serve. Nebraska cut the lead to 22-17 Gators which led to the first Florida timeout of the third set.
Florida got a touch on the Husker block for the point after the timeout and then added another to take their first set point at 24-17. A long rally ensued, won by the Huskers, to fend off the first set point. Florida capitalized on their second set point, winning 25-18.
Nebraska hit .143 in the set, bringing their hitting number down to .209 after three sets. Foecke had 16 kills through three and was hitting .239. Holman had six kills after three sets and was hitting .500.
Kelly Hunter got the Huskers on the board first in the third set with a joust at the net which she won. Foecke got her first kill of the fourth to put the Huskers up 2-0 early.
A Holman-Foecke block extended the Husker lead to 3-0. The Florida serve-receive struggled with Kenzie Maloney’s serve leading to another Husker point, leading to the first Florida timeout with the Huskers up 4-0.
The timeout was beneficial for the Gators as they stemmed the early tide, but their serve was in the middle of the net to put Kelly Hunter back to serve. The Huskers rode a 5-0 run with Hunter serving to go up 9-1 early in the fourth set.
The Huskers held a 10-2 lead early, but Florida used a 2-0 run to tighten the gap a bit before Jazz Sweet terminated to make the score 11-4 Huskers.
The Huskers led 14-8, a controversial call went Florida’s way as a Foecke attack found the floor, but she was called in the net. The Husker coaching staff argued that the ball was down before she was in the net, but to no avail. Florida then capitalized on a Husker miscommunication to close to 14-10 and force the Huskers first timeout of the set.
Foecke’s next swing found the floor in the deep corner to give Nebraska a 15-10 lead. Kenzie Maloney’s second statted kill of the match put the Huskers up 16-10. She followed that up with an ace to make the Husker advantage seven once again. The Huskers maintained the seven-point lead, forcing the final Gator timeout of the set with the score 20-13 Nebraska.
Again Florida used the timeout well, scoring the next point and halting the Husker run. The couldn’t hold serve, sending that serve deep to make the score 21-14 Huskers.
The Huskers took a 22-14 lead on an Albrecht kill that was ruled to be touched at the net, but Florida challenged the call and won the challenge, making the score 21-15 Nebraska.
Florida never got close again. Nebraska took their first match point leading 25-15 and converted their second. Securing the set and the national championship 25-16.
The Huskers hit .234 on the night led by a LONG shot by Foecke. Foecke had 20 kills on 56 swings to hit .250. Lauren Stivrins had nine kills and hit .316.
Nebraska won this with defense, as they had often in the season. The Huskers had 65 digs to 49 for the Gators. Maloney led the Huskers with 15 digs and Foecke recorded double-double with 14 digs.
Florida had one more block than the Huskers, with eight against the Huskers’ seven. The Huskers were led by six block assists from Briana Holman.
The Huskers talked prior to the match about beating the Gators in serve and pass and that would be the key to winning this. The Huskers have been an aggressive serving team all season, giving up errors as long as they were also recording aces. That happened again tonight, with the team having eight errors, but four aces. The tough serving kept Florida out of system a lot of the night, making the Huskers’ defense that much easier.
The team’s motto this year was “With Each Other For Each Other.” That motto showed in the toughest matches. It’s uncommon to have an outside hitter hit .000, but the team still win the match. Albrecht had seven kills, but also seven errors on the night. Holman, and Stivrins picked up the slack, keeping the Florida defense on its toes.
Coach Cook talked throughout the season about how much fun this group was to coach. It is also the first time any Husker players have won multiple national championships.
It’s also worth noting that both of the team’s assistant coaches left after last season to take head coaching jobs. The team rallied with the two new assistants this year, Tyler Hildebrand and Kayla Banwarth.
Florida Coach Mary Wise acknowledged how difficult it was to defend Foecke’s attacks, but called Hunter “the best setter in the country.” It could not be overlooked that Hunter playing in tonight’s match played a huge part in the outcome. She did not play due to injury when the teams met in August.
-Briana Holman graduated from the University earlier in the day Saturday. Her name was called as the Huskers practiced this morning.
-This is the Huskers’ fifth national title, moving them to third place all-time, trailing only Penn State and Stanford who are tied with seven. It is Coach Cook’s fourth.
-Foecke, Hunter, and Maloney were named to the All-Tournament team with Foecke and Hunter being name co-Most Outstanding Players of the Final Four.