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Volleyball: Huskers Advance to Regional Final

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Nebraska will play Saturday to advance to Championship Weekend. The opponent, however, is a bit of a surprise, though familiar.

Jon Johnston

If the Huskers are going to play for back-to-back National Championships, it means two straight weekends playing in Minneapolis. However, the obstacle to Championship Weekend is not what many Husker fans thought it would be. Minnesota, who had Nebraska’s number twice this year, was upset by the Oregon Ducks in the regional semifinal.

Nebraska took care of business, sweeping the Kentucky Wildcats 25-17, 25-20, 25-23. Nebraska controlled pace of play most of the day, but didn’t take a lead in the third set until the score was 24-23. In fact, Nebraska at one point in the set rode an 8-2 run to get back into the set.

The Huskers’ .239 hitting percentage isn’t the most spectacular number the Huskers have had this season, but when your opponents hit .165, it works in your favor. Outside hitters Mikaela Foecke and Lexi Sun both had double-digit kills. Foecke hit .303 with 14 kills and Sun hit .200 with 13 kills. Freshman middle Callie Schwarzenbach was error-free on the day with four kills to hit .667.

The Husker block continued to be a huge factor in the Huskers’ favor. Though the Huskers recorded only eight blocks, it was five more than Kentucky managed, and a lot of balls were turned back that didn’t hit the floor. Schwarzenbach was the leading blocker with part of five of the Husker blocks, though five different Huskers got in on the action.

Coach Cook has talked at length about their defense down the stretch this season, and the Huskers had 55 digs to 49 for Kentucky. Three Huskers had eleven digs, senior libero Kenzie Maloney, freshman setter Nicklin Hames, and freshman DS Megan Miller. Foecke had ten.

Nebraska looked good throughout the match. Even when the team was down in the third, they didn’t look frazzled or like the set was out of reach. The team was in control and grounded. The leaders kept the team focused and on track.

Oregon knocked off Minnesota way back in September 3-1, so the Ducks knocking off the Gophers wasn’t a complete surprise, but Minnesota’s been playing phenomenal volleyball since then and has arguably been the best team in the nation in the last month. To a lot of people, they were the favorite in this tournament.

When the Huskers played the Ducks back in August, Oregon setter August Raskie had two dumps that she converted for kills. Against Minnesota on Friday night, it was ten. How Nebraska handles that will help determine their success.

Oregon actually outblocked Nebraska 5-4 back in August. However, the Ducks hit .176 at Devaney. They hit .313 against Minnesota. It should also be noted that Lexi Sun didn’t play in that match as she was nursing an injury. Capri Davis and Sami Slaughter split time opposite Foecke in that match.

Nebraska swept Oregon in August. Oregon beat Minnesota in four back in September. A lot of volleyball has been played since then. For example, Oregon beat Minnesota in four in DECEMBER.

As this article is being written, Stanford and Washington state are tied at one set apiece. That is a surprise. It’s likely that Stanford will ultimately win this match, however.

If that is the result, the regional finals will be Illinois-Wisconsin at 3:00 Central, Nebraska-Oregon at 5:00 Central, BYU-Texas at 7:00 Central, and Stanford-Penn State at 9:00 Central. All of the matches will be televised on ESPNU.

So, what will the volleyball final four look like? The short answer? I’m not confident. The long answer?

The Illinois-Wisconsin match is hard to call. However, it’s likely that Illinois will ride senior setter Jordyn Poulter and the home court to a win in Champaign.

Although the match is in Provo, Texas plays a much tougher schedule and will come out of that region.

Stanford will beat Penn State.

Nebraska swept Oregon in Lincoln back in August. Last weekend in Lincoln, Nebraska absolutely silenced a Missouri team who’d been all but unstoppable the night before. Nebraska will have to do that again. It should be mentioned that two of Oregon’s sets tonight went to extra points, including the second set which the Ducks won 41-39. You read that right.

Nebraska will advance to the Championship Weekend. It will mean that every season of Foecke’s career will end as one of the last four teams playing.

Last season, I didn’t think Nebraska deserved a spot in Championship Weekend until after they’d made it there. That was also when I realized this was a team that could win it all. Take from that what you will.

When I thoroughly believed Nebraska would have to play Minnesota tomorrow night to advance out of the region, I said that match would be the de facto championship match, the winner would win it all. Take from that what you will.

I’m not ready to pick Nebraska to repeat. At this point last season, I wasn’t ready to pick them to win it all. They did.

It’s too early to crown anyone. However, none of those four are a definitive favorite. I’m not ready to pick the Huskers yet, however...

GBR