Volleyball vs. Missouri

The Nebraska volleyball team celebrates winning a point against Missouri in the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

The Nebraska volleyball team swept the Missouri Tigers Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind a strong performance by senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke.

The Huskers advance to the Sweet 16 with the win where they will face the No. 10 overall seed Kentucky Wildcats.

“For a second-round match, that’s the toughest I can remember in a long long time,” head coach John Cook said after the match. “Missouri is a very good team.”

Foecke went all out in her final match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. She finished with a .667 hitting percentage with 16 kills and no errors. She also had two ace serves, seven digs and four blocks.

“You could tell we were having a lot of fun out there,” Foecke said. “That was probably one of the biggest moments for me, just being able to be out there with my teammates and enjoying it.”

Fellow outside hitters sophomores Lexi Sun and Jazz Sweet added 11 and eight kills, respectively. Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins also notched eight kills and a .667 hitting percentage in addition to her six blocks.

Sophomore outside hitter Leketor Member-Meneh led Missouri with 11 kills while sophomore outside hitter Kylie Deberg added 10.

The Huskers as a team hit .384 — their fifth consecutive match hitting over .350 — with only eight attack errors in the match while Missouri hit .216 and had 16 attack errors. Nebraska also held a 7-1 advantage in service aces and doubled the Tigers in blocks with an 8-4 edge.

“We’ve been working on that a lot lately,” freshman setter Nicklin Hames said of the team’s recent hitting performances. “I think it’s really starting to show up on the court and in games.”

In the first set, it was the Tigers that held the early lead. A block, kill and a miscommunication between Foecke and senior libero Kenzie Maloney gave Missouri a 3-0 lead. The Huskers came roaring back and went on an 8-1 run to take an 8-4 lead, and the Tigers took a timeout.

A Deberg kill out of the timeout made it 8-5, but a pair of blocks by freshman setter Nicklin Hames (one assisted by Stivrins and one solo) helped Nebraska go on a 4-0 lead and increase its lead to 12-5.

The Huskers increased its lead by one more to take an eight point advantage at 16-8 before Missouri took its second timeout.

Nothing seemed to be able to slow down the Huskers, however. Nebraska kept pace with the Tigers and maintained its eight-point edge at 20-12. Needing five points to clinch the set, Foecke and Sun both picked up kills, and two errors by Missouri put Nebraska within one point of winning set one at 24-14.

Hames aced the next serve to give Nebraska the 25-14 victory in set one. Nebraska’s defense held Missouri to .061 hitting in set one while the Huskers hit for .333 themselves.

The phrase “second verse same as the first,” could perfectly describe the start to set two. Missouri took a 3-0 lead before an 8-1 run by Nebraska put the Huskers up 8-4, leading to a Tigers timeout just like in the first set.

This time, however, the Tigers did not stay down like in set one. Deberg took over and scored five kills and recorded a block for Missouri to help her team tie the set at 10, and Nebraska took its first timeout of the night.

A pair of kills by Sun and one each by Sweet and Foecke helped Nebraska climb back into a 15-13 lead. Another kill by Sweet and a Tigers error put the Huskers up four at 17-13.

Again, Missouri continued to fight and won four of the next five rallies to trim the Huskers lead to one at 18-17. A ball-handling error on the next point extended the Huskers lead back to two, and Missouri called timeout.  

Out of the timeout, a kill and service ace by Foecke gave the Huskers a 21-17 lead. From there, the teams traded points back and forth until freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach’s first kill of the match gave the Huskers a 25-22 win in set two, putting Nebraska one set away from a sweep.

Nebraska refused to let Missouri get the early advantage in set three. Stivrins scored a pair of kills and a block alongside Foecke to help the Huskers take a 5-2 lead. Missouri took a timeout early, facing elimination if it lost this set.

Foecke added another block and Stivrins two blocks and a kill after the timeout, and Nebraska increased its lead to 10-4. The next six points all came from service errors or aces. Hames picked up an ace, Stivrins mishit on an error and Foecke had one of each while Missouri added two errors, and Nebraska came out of it with a 14-6 advantage.

Four straight kills by Member-Meneh for the Tigers cut Nebraska’s lead in half at 14-10. The teams traded the next eight rallies and the Huskers remained up four at 18-14.

A kill by Stivrins made it 19-14 and then senior setter Brooke Smith checked in the game for the Huskers to serve. Playing in her final game at the Devaney Center, Smith helped Nebraska score three straight points to take a 22-14 lead.

Seven points later, a kill by Sweet clinched set three for Nebraska 25-18 and sent the Huskers to the Sweet 16.

The team took a lap after the game and high-fived members of the crowd.

“The fans here are amazing and we’re so lucky to have them,” Foecke said. “To do a victory lap is just to thank them for everything they’ve done for us all season long, and for me, the past for years.”

Foecke said she made  everyone on the team wash their hands after thanking the crowd.

“Don’t want to get sick,” she joked, “We still have to play.”

Cook also had high-praise for Husker fans after the match.

“The standing-room-only area was full an hour before the match,” he said. “I just think about what it honor it was for Mikaela, Brooke, and Kenzie to play their final match at Devaney in front of a sold out crowd. The crowd was awesome tonight.”

Nebraska now heads to Minneapolis to take on the No. 10 seed Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If the Huskers can beat the Wildcats, they’ll take on either the No. 15 seed Oregon Ducks or No. 2 seed Minnesota Gophers in the Elite Eight.