The Nebraska volleyball team earned the No. 7 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the season 24-6 (15-5 Big Ten). The season was filled with ups and downs and plenty of marquee matchups.
With the first round of the tournament on Friday, it’s worth taking a look to see how the Huskers progressed throughout the season.
Nebraska started off its season with a rematch of last year’s national championship match against the No. 7 Florida Gators in the VERT Challenge. The Gators got revenge against the Huskers behind a 20-kill performance by freshman phenom Thayer Hall, and the Huskers opened their season with a 3-1 loss.
Following the season-opening defeat, Nebraska bounced back in a way that was befitting of a defending champion –– by winning its next 14 matches in a row.
The team started the win streak by sweeping No. 18 Oregon to close out the VERT Challenge. Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led all players with 15 kills in the match.
The Huskers then blew through their competition the next weekend at the Ameritas Challenge. Across three matches, the Huskers only dropped one set. The Huskers held all three opponents that weekend –– Ohio, Wake Forest and Santa Clara –– to hitting percentages under .100.
Next up, the Huskers took on in-state rival No. 14 Creighton on Sept. 6, in what might be the match of the year so far for Nebraska. In a contest that set an NCAA record for attendance at a regular-season volleyball match — 14,022 people — the Huskers fought back from an 0-2 deficit to win the match 3-2 in five sets.
That night in Omaha, Foecke set a new, career-high number of kills in a single match with 25 and earned Co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors on Sept. 10 for her performance. Freshman outside hitter Capri Davis also had a career-best 18 kills. Freshman setter Nicklin Hames had a career-high 56 assists, and senior libero Kenzie Maloney set a personal best with 25 digs.
The victory over the Bluejays moved the Huskers to 5-1 on the season.
The Huskers returned to the Bob Devaney Sports Center, where they easily defeated their next four opponents, including sweeping Iowa State, Central Michigan and Missouri State, as well as beating New Mexico 3-1 to improve to 9-1 on the season.
Freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach had a career-high 13 blocks against New Mexico and another nine versus Missouri State to become Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 17.
Nebraska opened Big Ten Conference play ranked third in the country against No. 18 Michigan and Michigan State on Sept. 21, and Sept. 23, respectively. Nebraska won both matches 3-1 to extend its winning streak to 11.
Foecke and Hames both earned conference honors for their performances to open Big Ten play. Foecke was named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week after totaling 33 kills, 17 digs and nine blocks in the two matches. Hames averaged over 10 assists per set and earned double-doubles in both matches en route to earning Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Sept. 24.
The Huskers continued their winning ways playing their first games outside of Nebraska on Sept. 28 against Northwestern and Sept. 29 against No. 7 Illinois.
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins became just the third player in program history to finish a match with a perfect 1.000 hitting percentage while earning at least 10 kills as Nebraska swept the Wildcats.
The next night against the Fighting Illini, Stivrins hit .818 with nine kills on 11 swings and no errors, as Nebraska won its 13th match in a row. Stivrins was named Co-Big Ten Player of the Week for her efforts against the pair of Illinois-based foes.
After defeating Iowa to improve to 14-1 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten, the No. 3 Huskers faced a top-5 opponent in the form of Minnesota in Lincoln on Oct. 6. The contest was a matchup of the last two, undefeated teams in Big Ten play.
The Gophers won the match 3-1, snapping the team’s 14-match win streak. Four Gopher players had double-digit kills in the match, and Minnesota’s .280 hitting percentage was the highest allowed by the Huskers at that point in the season. The Gophers were the first team to hit over .200 against Nebraska since Creighton 30 days earlier.
The Huskers bounced back in their following match, sweeping Indiana to improve to 15-2, and 6-1 in the Big Ten, on the season. The next stretch for Nebraska, however, would be the toughest of the season as the team played three, top-10 opponents in an eight-day span, with all of the matches being on the road.
Unfortunately for the team and fans alike, Nebraska dropped all three matches. First, the team fell to No. 9 Penn State 3-2 despite leading 2-1 after the first three sets. Six days later, Nebraska again lost, this time to No. 9 Wisconsin. Just like the match versus the Nittany Lions, the Huskers led 2-1 before losing the final two sets. The Huskers held the Badgers to just .114 hitting but only hit .087 themselves.
Nebraska finished the gauntlet the night after the Wisconsin match by falling 3-1 to No. 3 Minnesota in a rematch from two weeks prior. Despite the loss, the Huskers became the first team to win a set against Minnesota in Minneapolis all season when they won the first set 25-19.
Nebraska traveled to Ohio State and beat the Buckeyes 3-1 to get back in the win column. The Huskers then enjoyed a home-court advantage again, as they took on No. 6 Illinois and No. 7 Penn State to close October and open November.
The Illini got the best of the Huskers, defeating Nebraska 3-1 while holding the Huskers to .099 hitting. The Huskers won the first set 29-27 before losing three in a row to drop the match.
The Huskers dropped to 16-6 — 7-5 in the Big Ten — and largely out of competition for a third-straight Big Ten title, but the defending national champions refused to go down without a fight.
Nebraska finally got the monkey off its back by defeating a top-10 opponent in No. 7 Penn State in a five-set match. The Huskers trailed 2-1 entering set four but won the final two sets 25-18 and 15-8 to claim the victory.
Stivrins recorded a career-high 10 blocks in the win on her way to being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Nov. 5.
The win reignited a Husker team that had seemingly gone dormant, as Nebraska swept its next two opponents, Rutgers and Iowa, to improve to 19-6 and 10-5 in conference play.
Foecke surpassed 1,500 career kills against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, Iowa –– about an hour away from her hometown of West Point, Iowa.
Nebraska kept rolling as it took on its last two ranked opponents of the season –– No. 15 Michigan and No. 12 Purdue. The Huskers defeated both teams 3-1 on the road.
For their performances against the Hawkeyes and Wolverines, Foecke and Hames earned Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Week awards on Nov. 12. Foecke hit .500 in the pair of matches, while Hames averaged over 11 digs per set against Iowa and Michigan. Hames also recorded 42 assists against the Wolverines.
The Huskers finished their road schedule by sweeping Indiana on Nov. 17. Nebraska also swept its final two opponents of the regular season, Ohio State and Maryland, to finish with a 24-6 (15-5 Big Ten) record.
Foecke once again earned Co-Big Ten Player of the Week honors on Nov. 26, after averaging 4.17 kills per set in the last two matches of the regular season, including a team-best 16 against the Terrapins on Senior Night. Stivrins was awarded Co-Defensive Player of the Week for totaling 13 blocks in the two matches to close the season.
Nebraska opens NCAA Tournament play Friday, Nov. 30, against the Hofstra Pride. The match will be played at the Bob Devaney Sports Center, and first serve is set for 7 p.m.