For the second year in a row, the Nebraska volleyball team won a five-set thriller in the NCAA Semifinals, this time rallying from an 0-2 hole for a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Illinois Thursday Night at the Target Center. With the win, the Huskers advanced to Saturday's NCAA Final, where Nebraska will take on Stanford in an attempt to win back-to-back national titles.
Nebraska (29-6) lost the first two sets, 25-22 and 25-16, and set three was tied at 23 before Mikaele Foecke delivered consecutive kills to send the match to the fourth set. The Huskers then won set four, 25-20, to send it to a decisive fifth set. The fifth set was tied at 11 before Nebraska scored the final four points, with Foecke closing out the match with her 19th kill on match point.
Foecke and Lexi Sun each had 19 kills to lead Nebraska, and each player produced a double-double with Sun recording 12 digs and Foecke tallying 11 digs. Nicklin Hames also had a double-double with 46 assists and 19 digs, while running a Husker offense that hit .251 for the match. Jazz Sweet had nine kills on only 20 swings and Lauren Stivrins produced eight kills on 16 error-free swings for a match-high .500 attack percentage. Kenzie Maloney led Nebraska with 20 digs, while Megan Miller had 19 digs. The Huskers had nine more kills than Illinois and out-dug the Illini, but Illinois out-blocked Nebraska and served up nine aces.
Jacqueline Quade had a match-high 28 kills for Illinois (32-4), the most by a Husker opposing player this season. Beth Prince added 10 kills for an Illinois offense that hit .237. Morgan O'Brien had a match-high 27 digs, while Quade added 10 digs to produce a double-double.
Set 1: The Huskers had kills on their first three swings to take a 4-1 lead. Foecke had a block with Schwarzenbach and back-to-back kills to keep the Huskers up three, 7-4. But Illinois answered with a 3-0 run to tie the score at 7-7. Illinois tied the set at 9-9 and 10-10, but Hames dumped a kill after each point to not allow Illinois to go in front. Sun blasted a pair of kills and served an ace to give NU a 14-11 lead, but the Illini wouldn't go away, scoring three in a row to tie the set once again. Sweet and Schwarzenbach blocked an Illinois attack to give the Huskers a 15-14 advantage at the media timeout. Illinois took its first lead at 16-15 after a kill and ace by Quade on consecutive rallies, and Ali Bastianelli and Ashlyn Fleming added kills to take the Illini to an 18-16 lead. Foecke and Sun answered with kills for the Huskers out of a timeout, and the score was tied once again, 18-18. Hames dumped her third kill of the set, and Nebraska regained a 19-18 lead. After an Illinois timeout, Foecke served the Huskers' second ace of the set to make it 20-18. Illinois scored the next two to tie it 20-20, and the Illini went back in front, 22-21, on Quade's eighth kill. A pair of Husker hitting errors gave Illinois set point at 24-21. The Huskers fought off one point before the Illini won 25-22 on Quade's ninth kill. There were nine ties and three lead changes in the opening set.
Set 2: Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter served a 6-0 run to begin the set for the Illini, including three aces, and Nebraska used both of its timeouts during the run. The Illini led 12-4 after kills by Megan Cooney and Quade and a block by Bastianelli. Stivrins, Sun and Foecke strung together four straight kills for the Big Red to trim the deficit to 13-9, but Illinois went right back to Quade for two more kills and a 16-9 lead. Illinois led 19-12 when Sweet had three kills in a row to pull the Huskers within 19-15. The Huskers could get no closer than four, however, as Illinois scored a 6-1 run to win the set, 25-16.
Set 3: Stivrins had three early kills and Nebraska led 7-5 after an ace by Foecke. With the score tied 9-9, the Huskers scored four straight points after Illinois made its first service error of the match, and Sun added an ace that was followed by an Illinois error and a Sweet kill to make it 13-9. After Illinois pulled within one at 14-13, the Huskers put together another 4-0 run, this one with two kills by Foecke and one each by Sweet and Hames. Foecke and Sun added kills to make it a six-point lead at 20-14, but a Husker service error followed by a receiving error on Illinois' next serve made it 20-16, and the Huskers took a timeout. Nebraska led 21-16 when Illinois went on a 5-0 run to tie the score at 21-21. Foecke earned an important sideout for the Huskers with her 13th kill, but Nebraska's 10th service error knotted the score at 22-22. Illinois took a 23-22 lead, but Schwarzenbach and Foecke terminated for set point for the Huskers at 24-23. An Illinois net violation gave the Huskers the 25-23 win to extend the match.
Set 4: The Huskers trailed 5-3 before rallying to take a 7-5 lead on a 5-0 run served by Miller. A kill by Sun made it 9-6 Huskers, but Illinois scored the next three to tie it at 9-9. Illinois gained a 12-11 lead, but the Huskers clawed their way to a 15-14 lead at the media timeout, aided by kills from Sun and Schwarzenbach. An ace serve by Miller following an Illinois serve into the net put NU ahead 17-15. After Illinois tied the set at 17-17, Stivrins and Foecke blocked a Quade attack, and Stivrins and Sun took the Huskers to a 20-18 lead with back-to-back kills. The Illini hit wide after a timeout, but Poulter and Fleming had kills to cut to the Huskers' lead to 21-20. But once again an Illinois service error was followed by a Nebraska ace - this one from Hames - and NU led 23-20. After Illinois' second timeout, Sweet gained set point for the Huskers with her seventh kill, and Sun found the corner to force a fifth set after the 25-20 Husker win.
Set 5: The teams went back and forth early on with Illinois committing three service errors but siding out each time the Huskers served the next rally. Foecke blasted a kill for a 6-5 Husker lead, but Beth Prince answered for Illinois. The Illini won a joust at the net to go ahead 7-6, but Stivrins sided out for the Huskers with her eighth kill. Sun put NU up 8-7 at the crossover. Foecke struck a kill out of the back row to make it 9-7, and another kill by Sun had the Huskers up 10-8. A kill by Quade and an ace by Fleming tied the score at 10-10, and the Huskers took a timeout. Capri Davis sided out for the Huskers, but Quade answered. Sweet came right back with her ninth kill, and the Huskers won a challenge call that Foecke's shot deflected off an Illinois fingertip before going out, making the score 13-11. Maloney served an ace for match point at 14-11, and Foecke closed out match on the next rally with a kill.
Nebraska Post-Match Notes
With the win, Nebraska (29-6) advanced to the NCAA Final for the ninth time in program history (third-most in NCAA history). The Huskers have made back-to-back NCAA Finals for only the second time in school history (2005 & 2006) and are playing for the national title for the third time in the past four seasons.
The Huskers will go for their sixth national title and second in a row on Saturday. Nebraska has never won back-to-back national championships.
NU rallied from an 0-2 deficit for the first time ever in an NCAA Semifinal or Final. The Huskers had been 0-4 in NCAA Semifinals when losing the first two sets and 0-3 in NCAA Finals when losing the first two sets.
The Huskers became the first team to rally from an 0-2 deficit in an NCAA Semifinal or Final since Penn State came back to defeat Texas in the 2009 NCAA Final. The last time a team rallied from an 0-2 hole in an NCAA Semifinal match was in 2008, when Stanford defeated Texas.
Nebraska set a school record with its 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament victory. The 11-match postseason winning streak ranks sixth in NCAA history.
Nebraska improved its all-time NCAA Tournament record to 113-31. The Huskers’ 113 victories and .785 winning percentage in the postseason rank second in NCAA history to Stanford (124-31).
Nebraska improved to 9-6 all-time in NCAA Semifinal matches, including a 6-3 record under John Cook. Cook moved to 72-14 overall in NCAA Tournament play as Nebraska’s head coach and 80-18 in his career, including his seven seasons at Wisconsin.
John Cook has taken a Husker team to the NCAA Final for the sixth time in his 19 seasons at Nebraska, winning four national championships. Cook’s six finals appearances rank fifth among all coaches in NCAA history.
Cook improved to 8-1 against Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament at Nebraska.
The Huskers extended their winning streak to 12 matches with the win over third-ranked Illinois. Nebraska is 7-0 against ranked opponents during its win streak, including 3-0 vs. top-10 foes.
Illinois won five of the final six rallies in set one to hand Nebraska its first set loss of the NCAA Tournament, 25-22. The Huskers had won all 12 sets in the postseason and 22 straight sets dating back to Nov. 16.
Nebraska was held to 16 points in the second set, its third-fewest points in a set this season.
NU fell behind 0-2 for just the third time this season. The previous two times both occurred in the first six matches of the year. The Huskers are 2-1 when losing the first two sets of a match, with both wins coming over top-15 opponents (Creighton and Illinois).
Nebraska’s two seniors who have been with the program all four years – Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney – improved to 21-1 in their NCAA Tournament careers. The duo has won more postseason matches than any other players in Husker history.
Foecke and Maloney each played their 22nd NCAA Tournament match on Thursday, setting a school record for the most postseason matches by any player in program history. The duo have also each played 77 career sets in their NCAA Tournament careers, the most by any player in Nebraska history.
Foecke and Maloney are a combined 52-2 all-time in the months of November and December.
Foecke had 19 kills in the match, giving her 102 career kills in the NCAA Semifinals/Finals. She became just the 10th player in NCAA history to have 100 kills in NCAA Semifinals/Finals matches.
Foecke also had two aces, giving her eight in her career in NCAA Semifinals/Finals matches, which ties for the 10th-most in NCAA history. Her two aces also moved her up to seventh on Nebraska’s all-time list.
Maloney had a team-high 20 digs against Illinois to give her 519 digs this season. She became just the fourth Husker to have 500 digs in a season, and her 519 digs rank fifth in school history.
Nicklin Hames produced her 24th double-double of the season, extending her school record.
Hames also tied her career high with five kills.
Illinois’ Jacqueline Quade had 28 kills, the most by Husker opponent on the season. She had at least 22 kills in all three matches against Nebraska in 2018.
Illinois had nine aces in the match, the most the Huskers allowed in 2018. Nebraska had been aced only five times in its first four NCAA Tournament matches combined.