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Volleyball: Huskers on to Round Three

Saturday night saw a familiar foe from the Big XII days visiting Devaney for the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers knocked of the Missouri Tigers to advance.

The Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln hosted the second round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament on Saturday night and saw the host Nebraska Cornhuskers take on their old Big XII foe the Missouri Tigers. As happened so often in the Big XII days, the Huskers were again victorious 3-0 (25-14, 25-22, 25-18).

A long first rally ended with Mizzou scoring first. In fact, the Huskers looked somewhat out of sorts early, dropping the first three points before sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun could find the floor and get the Huskers on the board.

The Sun point started a 4-0 Husker that gave the Huskers a 4-3 lead before the Tigers scored again. Missouri lost serve immediately, and the Huskers went on another 4-0, punctuated by a brutal middle attack by sophomore Lauren Stivrins off a beautiful one-handed set from freshman setter Nicklin Hames. That led to the first Tiger timeout of the opening set with the Huskers up 8-4.

Missouri ended the Husker run out of the timeout with a deep corner kill, but again lost the subsequent point. Again the Huskers ran off four in a row, the fourth being a Hames solo block that brought Devaney to its feet, but again, Missouri couldn’t hold the serve. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke scored the next point for the Huskers to make the score 13-6 Huskers.

The Tigers used their second timeout of the first set with the Huskers up 16-8. After the initial three-point burst by Mizzou, the team had not yet held serve. Though they’d been successful in siding out, the had not had a server serve more than one since the first three points.

Hames missed her serve long out of the timeout, but again Missouri could not hold on to the serve. Lexi Sun jogged back to the service line with the score 17-9 Big Red.

Nebraska controlled the rest of the set, not allowing Missouri to ever serve back-to-back points and taking the set 25-14, ending with a Nicklin Hames ace.

The Huskers hit .333 in the opening set and held Missouri to .061. Foecke hit .833 with five kills on six swings of error-free offense. Stivrins hit 1.000 in the first with three swings and three kills. The Huskers recorded four blocks in the opener, led by Hames with two blocks, one solo.

Again Missouri started strong, taking the first three points of the second set before the Huskers could score, but unlike the first set, the Tigers answered immediately to make the score 4-1 Mizzou.

Nebraska immediately sided out and then went on a seven-point run with senior libero Kenzie Maloney serving to take an 8-4 lead and force the first Missouri timeout of the second set.

The play drawn up by Mizzou in the timeout was effective, and stopped the Husker run, but Nebraska again got the immediate sideout. Missouri answered in kind and the score was 9-6 Huskers.

This time, Missouri held on to the serve long enough to put their second serve in the rotation into the net and give the serve back to the Huskers who led 10-7.

Then it was Missouri’s turn to sideout immediately. This time they put together a run of their own and tied the game at 10 to force Husker Coach John Cook to use his first timeout of the set.

Lexi Sun’s attack was sent back by the Missouri block, but she sprang back up to put it down and end the Missouri run. The Huskers held a tight 11-10 advantage.

The visitors tied the score again at 11, but Nebraska scored the next two to open up the lead to 13-11. After the teams traded points to a 14-13 Husker lead, Nebraska used a three-point run, including an #SCTop10 worthy play by Hames using her foot, to open up a 17-13 lead.

Missouri began to mount another run, with a ball that sailed long called a touch at the net, but Coach Cook challenged the call. The call on the court made the score 17-15 Huskers, but the challenge was a good one, with the initial call overturned and the score changed to 18-14 Huskers.

However, the jubilation was short-lived as Missouri scored the next three points to close to within one at 18-17 Nebraska.

When Nebraska sided out for the subsequent point, Missouri took their second and final timeout of the set trailing to the Huskers 19-17. Nebraska was unfazed by the interruption, however, and scored the next two out of the timeout to open the lead to 21-17.

Though the Tigers kept it close late, they could never draw even, let alone take the lead, and the Huskers prevailed in the set 25-22 on a kill by freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach.

The Huskers hit .351 in the second set. Both Sun and Foecke had six more kills in the second set with no errors to lead the team. Overall the team was hitting .343 after two. Missouri’s attack was much better in the second set, hitting .278 and raising their match total to .174.

Missouri scored first again, but the Huskers answered immediately. The next point was a Husker attack that sailed long, but again Coach Cook challenged, claiming there was a touch on the block. The video was inconclusive, and the point stayed with Missouri, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead.

Nebraska scored on the next play and then ran off three more to push their lead to 5-2. Again Missouri used a timeout early in the set.

Missouri scored out of the timeout, but the next point was called the Huskers’ way on the court, but the Missouri staff challenged the call, saying that the defense had gotten the ball up. The replay showed that the defense had, in fact, gotten the ball up, and the point was replayed. The replay resulted in a Foecke kill and a 6-3 Husker advantage.

The run for the Huskers was eventually pushed to a 4-0 run which gave the Huskers a 9-3 lead. The Huskers extended the advantage to 14-6 and forced the second Tiger timeout of the third set.

The timeout served as a catalyst for a Missouri run. The Tigers scored the next three points to close to 14-9 and force a Husker timeout, their first of the third set. Missouri continued the run out of the timeout, closing to 14-10 before Schwarzenbach converted to stop the Tigers.

A net violation called on the Huskers made the score 17-13 Huskers, but as soon as Foecke hit the ground, she turned to protest and the Husker coaches challenged, claiming the violation had been on the Tigers. The challenge lasted awhile, but ended with a replay, as there was no net violation on either team.

The next point ended with a net violation on the Huskers anyway and made the score 17-13. However, Foecke made good on the next point and again made the Husker lead five with the score 18-13.

With the score 19-14 Huskers, senior DS Brooke Smith was inserted into the lineup to serve for Stivrins. Although she was cold, having been sitting the entire match, Smith served the Huskers to a 4-0 run and a lead that sealed the match. It was 22-15 Huskers after Smith’s fourth serve found the middle of the net. The Huskers took the set 25-18.

Two Husker hitters hit .667 for the night. That’s not a typo. Foecke had 16 kills on 24 swings with no errors. In fact, she had no errors for the entire weekend. Stivrins also hit .667 with eight kills on twelve error-free swings. The Huskers hit .384 for the night. Missouri hit .216 overall, getting better with each set as the night went on.

The Huskers’ defense far outplayed the Tigers’. The Huskers had eight blocks to four for the Tigers. Lauren Stivrins was part of six of the blocks. Nebraska had 41 digs led by 12 from Maloney. Missouri had 38.

There are many positives from this weekend. Foecke didn’t have a single hitting error in either match. Stivrins continued to be a force in so many ways. Sun was this weekend, and has been lately, much more forceful and successful in her attacks.

Jazz Sweet looked much better than she has throughout the season. Setting to the right side attacker is, arguably, the most difficult connection in volleyball. It has taken time for the freshman setter to connect with both middles, let alone with the right side attacker. Now is the time we want to see it.

If the Huskers want to make Championship Weekend in Minneapolis, they’ll have to win two matches next weekend... in Minneapolis. Minnesota is the 2-seed, and will be hosting next weekend. Nebraska will play Kentucky on Friday with Minnesota taking on Oregon. The winners will play each other on Saturday for the right to move on to a different arena in Minneapolis.

The Huskers have lost twice to Minnesota this year. While it’s premature to look ahead to that match, the reality is that SEC teams don’t match up with B1G teams very well (that’s fun to say, isn’t it?). While Oregon does some things that could give Minnesota trouble, the Gophers have a strong case that they should have been the 1-seed in this tournament.

So, is it premature to look ahead to an all-B1G regional final? Yes, but not really. It’s highly likely that we’ll see the Huskers taking on the Gophers next Saturday night. Minnesota’s looked nearly unstoppable this season, and there’s no reason to believe it will end next weekend at home. However, it is very difficult to beat a team twice in a season, let alone three times.

The winner of the Minnesota Region has to be the favorite to win the title. Nebraska has done some things to instill confidence that they can do it, but there have also been runs where it’s clear they don’t belong in the discussion. It’s hard to be confident enough to make a call, but the team that comes out of this region will be battle-tested enough to say that they’re the favorite.