Lauren Plum served the ball. It grazed the net and bounced off the hands of Paige Hubl for a service ace. However, the Oregon setter’s serve was unlike any other. It ended Nebraska volleyball’s season.
After routing Washington on Friday 3-0 (25-14, 25-21, 25-23) in the Omaha Regional semifinals, the Nebraska lost to Oregon 3-1 (25-14, 22-25, 18-25, 17-25) to end its run in the 2012 NCAA tournament in the regional finals.
“You just have to execute in the defining moments of a match,” NU coach John Cook said after the match. “Our effort was great, it just didn’t happen tonight. Oregon got the big kills when they needed them.”
The loss to the Ducks (29-4) in the regional finals ended Nebraska’s season at 26-7.
Less than 24 hours before Saturday’s match, the Huskers offense was firing on all cylinders.
Against the Huskies on Friday night, the NU offense tallied 43 kills, including a .345 team hitting percentage in the first set. That momentum appeared to carry over to Saturday’s match as well.
A monster opening performance led the Huskers to an easy 25-15 first set victory. It’d be the last advantage the Huskers would have the rest of the match and the rest of the season.
The Ducks used the embarrassing 10-point loss in the first set as motivation as its offense took control to win set two 25-22 and tie the match at one apiece.
The Huskers’ six errors played a key role in the second set drop, according to Cook.
“In a regional final there’s little room for error … you’ve got to make those plays,” he said. “We had four swings to put game two away throughout that game and made errors on all of them.
“I think if we had those four swings back – we convert those – we might win this match 3-0.”
After committing one error to begin the match, the Huskers’ six mistakes in game two led to a dismal .217 hitting percentage, which caused NU’s momentum to shift to Oregon’s side of the net, Cook said.
“That gave Oregon life and gave them confidence,” Cook said. “They took advantage of it and did a great job, we couldn’t get it back.”
Errors continued to haunt Nebraska as the team committed four more mistakes in the third set and eight in the fourth.
And it didn’t help that one of Oregon’s best player was coming to life either.
Pac-12 Player of the Year Alaina Bergsma nailed seven kills in Oregon’s second-set victory to bump her total to 12 kills after two games.
“It was like a heavyweight prize fight, we had to go blow for blow with her,” Cook said. “When she made a big kill we had to come back and make a big kill. We weren’t able to sustain that.”
And Bergsma only continued to give Nebraska fits in games three and four.
She finished with a match-high 23 kills and propelled her team to a spot in the semifinals next week in Louisville.
Bergsma’s impressive performance was too much to handle for Nebraska, Cook said.
“When you get to this level and try to get to a final four, you have to have somebody that can just take over matches and I thought she did it,” he said. “She’d get my vote right now for player of the year.”
After allowing UW to hit just .130, Nebraska was outswung .291 to .245 in the finals to the hard-hitting Ducks.
“I’d say Oregon is the best offensive team we’ve played this entire year,” NU senior Gina Mancuso said. “They’re quick, they’re powerful, they run weird sets that are not normal but they’re good at it.”
Led by Bergsma’s 22nd and 23rd kill, the Ducks went on to close the match on a 6-0 run and stop the Huskers from leaving the state.
“It just shows that you can’t get complacent,” NU setter Lauren Cook said. “You can’t be happy winning one set in volleyball, you got to win all three.”
The 9,382 in attendance at the CenturyLink Center witnessed the last college match for Mancuso, Cook, Hubl, Hannah Werth and Allison McNeal.
During their careers, the five seniors saw the Huskers win 106 matches and average 27 wins per year for the last four years.
However, reaching the final four was something they haven’t done, which is one reason why this loss may sting more than others in the past, John Cook said.
“It’s the only thing they haven’t accomplished,” he said. “They’ve won two conference championships, they’ve beaten three No. 1 teams, we’ve been ranked No. 1 several times … they’ve done a great job of consistently performing and winning.
“These guys did some great things … getting to Louisville was the one thing they had yet to get done. That’s why this is so hard for them.”