Before Saturday night, the #1 seed in the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament hadn’t won it all since 2009. That team was Penn State. At the Target Center in Minneapolis, that streak ended as the Stanford Cardinal knocked off the Nebraska Huskers 3-2 (26-28, 25-22, 16-25, 25-15, 15-12).
The first two points of the opening set went the way of the Cardinal, but the first Husker point came from an unlikely source, Husker freshman middle Callie Scwarzenbach. A long rally on the next point fell the Huskers’ way off senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke’s right hand.
Nebraska took a three-point lead on a ball that sailed out of bounds off the Stanford attack, but Cardinal Coach Kevin Hambly challenged, claiming there had been a touch by the Husker block. The video review proved inconclusive and the ball stayed with the Huskers.
Sophomore outside Jazz Sweet notched a kill on the next point for the Huskers to make the run 4-0 and the score 4-2 Big Red before Stanford scored again.
Nebraska sided out immediately and then added another to make the score 6-3 Huskers.
In fact, early in the first set, Stanford struggled with ball control and communication leading to a ton of unforced errors. Coach Kevin Hambly used his first timeout with the Huskers leading 9-4 after a Mikaela Foecke ace.
A net violation on the the Huskers stopped the run briefly, but the sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins put the ball between the Stanford block and the net to make the score 10-5 Huskers.
Lexi Sun missed a shot into the net, and then Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer scored for Stanford to make the Score 10-7 Huskers.
Stanford found their footing and closed to within two at 11-9 Huskers with Plummer leading the attack. Nebraska took their first timeout of the opening set at that point.
Freshman outside hitter Capri Davis converted her swing on the next point to get the serve back to the Huskers, but Stanford got the immediate sideout and then another point to narrow the Husker lead to one, 12-11.
A fearsome bounce block by Sweet and Stivrins put the Huskers up 14-11, and then a Foecke kill made the score 15-11 Huskers.
The Target Center ERUPTED on a play that looked like a second Stivrins-Sweet block, but Sweet was called in the net. She made good on the next point to put the Huskers up 16-12.
For a good while in the match, it seemed like every time Stanford scored, Nebraska answered to keep the advantage at four. The Cardinal did close to within two at 17-15, but Stivrins smashed an overpass off a Lexi Sun attack to put the Huskers back up by three.
The Huskers missed their next serve, and then a Stanford serve just trickled over for an ace to close to 18-17 Stanford. Another ace tied the set, and a dribbler by Kathryn Plummer gave Stanford their first lead since 2-1 at 19-18. This led to the second Husker timeout of the set.
Again the Huskers turned to Schwarzenbach to get them out of a tough spot and tied the score again at 19.
Stanford went up 20-19 and then again aced the Huskers go up 21-19, but Kayla Banwarth and Jazz Sweet, who were sitting at the baseline along the bench, immediately turned to Coach Cook and implored him to challenge. He did, but the call was confirmed on replay and the ball remained with the Cardinal.
The next serve did sail long and made the score 21-20 Stanford and put Lexi Sun back to serve for the Huskers.
Stanford got the sideout and then an off-speed kill from Plummer put them up 23-20, but a long rally again ended in a Foecke kill and the Huskers closed to 23-21.
The Cardinal earned their first set point at 24-21, but again Plummer challenged Sweet and Stivrins and was rebuffed. The block made the score 24-22. The next Cardinal attack sailed wide and forced the second and final Stanford timeout with the score 24-23.
The time on the bench was brief for the Cardinal, and freshman DS Megan Miller’s serve forced a Stanford overpass that led to another Stivrins kill and tied the set at 24.
Stanford scored next to end the 3-0 Husker run and earn another set point, but Foecke again took care of the subsequent point, tying the score at 25.
And again Stanford scored to get a set point, and this time Stivrins answered with a slide attack to tie it. Stanford then took the next two to take the first set 28-26.
Nebraska hit .302 in set one while holding Stanford to .268. Foecke led the way with seven kills and hit .429. Stivrins had five kills and hit .833. Both teams had two blocks, but Stanford had five aces to only one for the Huskers.
Set two started again with Stanford scoring first, but Foecke tied the score on a shot cross court on the next point.
It went back and forth early in the set, with every point Stanford scoring giving them a one-point lead and Nebraska then tying it up.
Nebraska took their first lead on Sun’s first kill of the night to go up 5-4. A Foecke kill on the next point gave the Huskers the first two-point lead of the set for either team.
Two straight Cardinal points tied the score again, but Sun found the floor to put the Huskers up 7-6. Sun and Schwarzenbach combined on a block to make the score 8-6 Big Red.
As the teams traded blows, the advantage held for the Huskers, up two when they’d scored, one when Stanford scored. Stanford tied the score again when a Sweet attack just missed wide down the line. Stanford took the lead on a Stivrins attack that just missed. Stivrins made good on the next point, however, to tie the score at 11.
Stanford went up 12-11, but Stivrins answered to tie the score again. Sun went off-speed down the line to put the Huskers back on top, 13-12.
At the media timeout, the Huskers led 15-13. Stanford scored next to close to within one, and then tied it at 15 after a long, scrappy rally.
Nebraska went up again 16-15 when the Stanford serve missed wide and a tough serve by freshman setter Nicklin Hames forced the Cardinal out-of-system and into the Husker block to put the Big Red up by two again, 17-15.
A tool off the top of the Husker block scored for Stanford, but Capri Davis answered through the block to keep the Huskers up.
Foecke hammered a ball through the Stanford block on the next point that the Cardinal defenders sent into the crowd to put the Huskers up 19-16 and force the first Stanford timeout of the second set.
Another Foecke kill pushed the Husker lead to four at 20-16 before Plummer found the floor again. The next point was a Jazz Sweet kill to keep the Huskers ahead by four.
The next two points went to Stanford and forced the first Nebraska timeout with the score 21-19 Huskers.
Foecke once again had the answer for the Big Red, burying the ball on a middle attack this time to put the Huskers up 22-19. Another Foecke kill made it 23-19 Huskers and forced the second Stanford timeout of the set.
Stanford the back row attack by Sun to close to 23-20, and then a Husker hustle play didn’t work out for the Big Red and the score was 23-21 Nebraska.
Though it’s getting repetitive, Foecke took care of it again, giving the Huskers the set point at 24-21 and putting herself on the service line.
Stanford fended off the first set point, but a Cardinal net violation on the Stivrins attack gave the set to the Huskers, 25-22.
Foecke had eight kills in the second set to lead a Husker attack that hit .326. Stivrins added five more kills.
Set three began with two straight points for Stanford before Foecke got Nebraska on the board. Stanford answered with two more to go up 4-1 before Foecke again was called on and answered.
Stanford then pushed the lead to five at 7-2, giving them strong early momentum and forcing the first Husker timeout of the set.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the play Nebraska drew up in the timeout involved Foecke. She once again came through with a kill. However, she was the next server and missed the serve deep.
Foecke again answered the call, this time on an attack out of the backrow. That put sophomore DS Hayley Densberger on the line to serve, and Stanford struggled to handle the serve. After Stanford got the ball to the Big Red, Foecke again took care of the point.
Schwarzenbach got a kill to get the Huskers to within two at 9-7 Cardinal, and then Davis closed the Big Red to within two again at 10-8 Stanford.
A Stanford block of Jazz Sweet put the Cardinal up five again at 13-8, the team retaking momentum just as it looked as if Nebraska was going to fight back into the set.
Nebraska used their second timeout of the set trailing 15-8. The timeout did nothing to bring the Huskers back in to the set, and Stanford’s lead continued to grow. The Cardinal led 17-8 before hitting the antenna on their attack and mercifully giving the ball to the Huskers.
The respite was brief, however, and after the sideout, Stanford’s Kathryn Plummer aced Foecke to go up 19-9.
Nebraska trailed 20-9 before going on a three-point run. Though the run was interrupted by a Stanford kill, even the brief run seemed to restore the Huskers’ confidence. The team cut down on unforced errors and the Huskers outscored the Cardinal 7-5 in the late part of the set that Stanford won 25-16.
Nebraska hit a paltry .027 in the third set while Stanford hit .238. Foecke had four kills in the set, but also had three errors. Stivrins had two kills.
Jazz Sweet got the kill on the left side to start the scoring in the fourth set. Sweet got the second point as well to put the Huskers up 2-0 early. A backrow block violation on the Cardinal setter gave the Huskers a 3-0 early lead.
A long fourth point that featured phenomenal defensive play on both sides ended with a Foecke kill and resulted in a Stanford timeout with the score 4-0 Nebraska.
A Stanford net violation on the next point extended the Husker lead to 5-0, but Stanford managed to get on the board the next point.
It didn’t last, though, with the serve sailing long and Stivrins then burying an overpass on the next TWO points to put the Huskers up 8-1. Nebraska blocked the Stanford attack to go up 9-1 and force the final Cardinal timeout of the set.
Stanford scored out of the timeout after easily handling the Husker serve, but Jazz Sweet answered the bell on the next play, hitting deep cross to make the score 10-2 Huskers.
As well as Stanford played in the middle of the third, and as poorly as Nebraska did in the same stretch, the roles switched and then some in the early-going of the fourth. Nebraska had a nine-point lead at 13-4 before allowing a three-point run capped by a Stanford ace the led to the first Husker timeout of the fourth.
Mikaela Foecke put a ball deep in the corner of the Stanford side of court out of the timeout to end the Stanford run and make the score 14-7 Huskers.
Stanford closed to within five at 14-9, but Sun notched a kill and an ace on the next two points to go up by seven again, 16-9.
Nebraska then went up 17-9, but Stanford fought back again, scoring two straight to make the score 17-11 before Sweet again painted the line cross-court to extend the Husker lead.
Stivrins found the floor on the next point, and then combined with Foecke to block the Stanford right side attack and extend the lead again to nine, 20-11.
Nebraska pushed the lead to 21-11 before Stanford could answer and make the score 21-12 Huskers.
Another point by the team from Palo Alto made another run to get it close, but the Huskers pulled away in the end, taking set four 25-15.
Nebraska hit .412 in the fourth while holding Stanford to .121. The attack was led by six kills from Stivrins and five from Sweet.
Sun started the serving in the fifth set and Stanford struggled with her first ball, giving the Huskers the first shot at a swing, and they converted it into the first point from, guess who, Foecke. Sweet and Schwarzenbach combined for a block on the next point to put the Big Red up 2-0.
Stanford scored to make it 2-1, but Foecke answered again to put the Huskers up 3-1. Stanford had their own answer to that one, and then a Sweet attack error tied the score at three.
Stanford went up 4-3 with the block on Sweet’s next swing, and then took a 5-3 lead when Foecke’s attack missed deep. That led to the first Husker timeout of the fifth set.
Foecke used the top of the Stanford block to make it right on the point out of the timeout to close to within one at 5-4 Stanford.
Stanford’s Tami Alade put a ball right in the middle of the Husker defense on the next point to extend the lead again to two, but Stivins used Alade’s left hand on the next point to score.
The next Stanford attack missed just deep and tied the score of the deciding set at six, but Stanford went up by one again when Foecke’s serve missed deep.
Freshman setter Nicklin Hames turned on the next pass and put it straight down on the Stanford defense to tie the score, but another errant serve put Stanford up 8-7 at the change of side.
Stanford tipped smartly over the Husker block to go up by two again, 9-7, but Sun answered with a tricky off-speed shot of her own for the Huskers, making the score 9-8 Stanford. She used the Stanford block on the next point to tie the score again at nine.
The favor was returned on the next point by the Cardinal, using Sun’s hand to score and go up again by one. The next ball flew long, but was called a touch by the officials, and Stanford again held a two-point lead, 11-9.
Capri Davis came in and was immediately called on to get the sideout, and she made good, using the Cardinal block and making the score 11-10. Stanford answered immediately however, and Coach Cook used the second and final Husker timeout of the set with Nebraska trailing 12-10 in the deciding set.
Stanford’s setter dumped to the middle of the Husker defense to go up 13-10 after the timeout, but Stanford missed their next serve wide to make the score 13-11. Coach Kevin Hambly immediately challenged after his players on the court insisted the serve had been in.
The Cardinal won the challenge and it set up Championship point with the score 14-10 Stanford. The Huskers fended that one of with a cross-court rocket from Foecke, but Stanford still had three more Championship points.
Plummer swung hard for Stanford on the next point, but was blocked by the Huskers and then in the net as her team covered the ball, making the score 14-12 Stanford and forcing her coach to use a timeout, the team’s first of the set.
Though Stanford struggled with the subsequent serve, they ultimately converted the point to take the set 15-12 and the match, but Cook challenged that the Stanford attack, which was out of the backrow, was a fault. It paused the celebration, but only briefly as the call on the court was confirmed and the confetti began to fall.
For the night, Nebraska actually outhit Stanford .271 to .250. Foecke led the team in kills with 27 on 71 swings and hit .296. It was a career high for her. Stivrins was the second-leading attacker for the Big Red with 19 kills on only 26 swings. She hit .615.
The teams were almost dead-even in digs, with Nebraska scoring 73 and Stanford 74. Senior libero Kenzie Maloney led the way for the Huskers with 17 and while she struggled attacking, Sun made up for it with 15 digs.
The Husker block was better on Saturday than it was on Thursday, recording nine on the night. The block was led by Jazz Sweet with five block assists while Stivrins and Schwarzenbach had four apiece.
In the end, Stanford found ways to score points when it mattered. Both teams had a terrible set in the match. Both teams overcame that terrible set to play the volleyball they knew how to play in the subsequent set. This was a battle between two powerhouse programs.
Mikaela Foecke and Lauren Stivrins were both named to the All-tournament Team. They were joined on the team by Co-Most Outstanding Players Kathryn Plummer and Morgan Hentz from Stanford, Audriana Fitzmorris and Jenna Gray, also from Stanford, and Illinois’ Jacqueline Quade.
While many will reflect on Foecke’s legacy at Nebraska, one cannot forget that Maloney was with her throughout her career. Those two re-established Nebraska on the national stage in a way the program hadn’t been in close to a decade. After the match, Coach Cook mentioned one of these captains’ combined strengths was making a team better than the sum of its parts, which he said this team definitely showed.
Stivrins spoke of Foecke and Maloney’s leadership after the match, talking about the legacy left behind and the shoes to fill for the young women who will be wearing the red next year.