Florida newcomers led the Gators to a 3-1 victory against Nebraska Friday in a 2017 national championship rematch.True freshman outside hitter Thayer Hall led all players with 20 kills, helping seventh-ranked Florida withstand a late Nebraska run and hang on for a 3-1 victory over the defending national champions in the second game of the VERT Challenge in Lincoln.
Sophomore outside hitter Jazz Sweet led all Huskers with 13 kills, while senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke finished with 11 and 10 digs. True freshman Nicklin Hames debuted with 35 assists and 19 digs.
“We just were too high-air,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said after the loss. “That was one of my worries. Our ball handling and passing wasn’t superb like it needs to be, and we had a hard time getting into a rhythm offensively.”
The Huskers came out fast, and not just on the volleyball court. The excitement for their first game of the season boiled over to the point that they nearly ran onto the court several minutes early, instead waiting in the tunnel.
With three true freshmen, Hames, Megan Miller and Callie Schwarzenbach in the starting lineup, the Huskers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first set. The Gators countered and tied the game on an ace from junior defensive specialist Allie Gregory. The two teams traded points for most of the first set, but Florida pulled ahead halfway through with a 5-1 run to take a 17-12 lead. The Huskers were able to get within two points once but that was it, and Hall ended the set for the Gators with a kill.
It was more of the same in the second set, as the teams once again traded points for the first 10 points before the Gators used a 6-0 run to take a 12-8 lead. Nebraska was able to rally and tie the set at 14 with a kill by sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins.
The teams traded blows again throughout the latter half of the set, and a kill by Sweet tied it up at 21-all, but the Gators ended the set with a 4-1 run. The Huskers had an opportunity to tie the set at 23, but Kenzie Maloney committed one of the team’s 13 costly service errors.
The third set was yet again closely played, and once again the Gators were able to build up a three-point lead midway through the set. The Huskers rallied again, forcing Florida to call a timeout after a kill by Foecke tied things up. Out of the timeout, Nebraska regained the lead on an attack error by Hall.
With the set tied at 23, Stivrins was able to find the ground with a kill set up by Hames. After a timeout, the true freshman Miller was able to end the set with an ace.
In the decisive fourth set, Florida jumped out to a big lead and was able to hold onto it longer, pushing it to their largest margin of the match at 21-16. The Gators’ had a .317 hitting percentage in the fourth set, doubling their previous set’s percentage.
The Huskers had another response, though. A kill by Maloney sparked a 4-0 run to pull Nebraska within one late in the set, but another service error by Maloney killed the rally. True freshman Capri Davis gave the Huskers another chance to tie the match at 22, but sophomore Hayley Densberger was unable to put her serve in play. The Gators were able to end the match with a kill by Hall.
“We did good things but [at] end-game you’ve got to be good,” Cook said. “One end-game we were, others we weren’t.”
There was a feeling of déjà vu following the loss, as the Huskers also opened last season with a loss to Florida in their second game, albeit in five sets. Nebraska would face the Gators again in the national championship game in Kansas City and defeat them in four sets. When asked if that gave them more perspective following the loss, Sweet wasn’t completely sure.
“It definitely a whole new team and a whole new thing, but we knew they were a good team,” she said. “I definitely think we’re ready for tomorrow.”
Cook believed some of the freshmen came out nervous, specifically noting they were setting the ball higher than they normally do. In the first two sets, the Huskers had just eight assists. In the third and fourth sets alone, the Huskers picked up 14 apiece.
Nebraska will return to action Saturday night when they host no. 18 Oregon. The Ducks lost to Texas in four sets earlier in the day, and defeated the Huskers in the event last season.