The No. 7 seed Nebraska volleyball team swept the No. 15 seed Oregon Ducks on Saturday, Dec. 8, to advance to its fourth consecutive Final Four.
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke led the way with a double-double, earning 16 kills and 13 digs. She hit .400 and recorded two blocks as well. Her and fellow senior Kenzie Maloney will each play in their fourth national semifinal and are 20-1 in the postseason in their careers.
Sophomore middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun finished with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Stivrins led all the Huskers in hitting percentage (.526) and blocks (four).
Freshman outside hitter Ronika Stone led the Ducks with nine kills.
Nebraska held Oregon to .250 hitting, including .150 in the third set, while hitting .345 itself. The Huskers also held a 48-42 advantage in kills, 53-47 lead in digs and had five blocks to Oregon’s two.
Both team struggled from the service line, as Nebraska finished with three aces and nine errors while the Ducks had just one ace and seven errors.
The first set was tightly contested throughout. Oregon head coach Matt Ulmer challenged the very first point of the match, reversing a kill by Sun. AStone kill then gave the Ducks an early 2-0 lead.
Freshman outside hitter Capri Davis earned a kill and Stone countered to make it 3-1. Oregon kept its two-point lead after the teams traded service errors at 4-2
Still trailing 5-3, the Huskers put together a 3-0 run that included a pair of kills by Stivrins and an Oregon error, giving Nebraska its first lead at 6-5. A Nebraska hitting error erased the small lead on the next point, however, and the game was tied 6-6.
The two teams traded points back and forth and remained tied at 10. Oregon gained some separation from Nebraska with a 3-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. The three-point edge was the largest by either team yet, and Nebraska called timeout.
Foecke earned a kill out of the timeout and Nebraska picked up a block to climb within one at 13-12. Stone earned a kill for the Ducks, but an Oregon service error kept the lead at 14-13. Another Oregon kill and service error on the next two points made it 15-14, keeping the Ducks’ one-point advantage alive.
Stivrins picked up two more kills while Sun earned one as the Huskers scored three of the next four points to take a 17-16 lead. Another Sun kill and a service ace by freshman setter Nicklin Hames helped Nebraska take a 19-17 lead, and the Ducks took a timeout.
Oregon tied the set at 20 after the timeout, but the Huskers pulled away again with a 3-0 run to lead 23-20. After trading the next four rallies, Foecke put away the set with her second kill of the match, as Nebraska took the set 25-22 and a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Huskers again fell behind in set two. Oregon jumped out to an early 7-4 lead. Nebraska scored-back to-back points via kills by Foecke and Stivrins to cut the deficit to 7-6. Oregon then responded and put together a 3-0 run to take a 10-6 lead, forcing Nebraska to call a timeout.
Nebraska failed to immediately get back into the set after the timeout. Oregon put the Huskers in a bigger hole, taking a five-point lead at 12-7 off a service ace by freshman outside hitter Lindsey Vander Weide.
Kills by freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach, sophomore outside hitter Jazz Sweet and Sun pulled Nebraska to within two points of the Ducks at 12-10. Nebraska tried to make up more ground over the next few rallies, but still trailed 14-12.
Oregon grew its lead back to four points at 16-12 after another Stone kill and an error by Foecke. The Huskers still trailed by four as the teams split the next four points.
The defending national champions refused to go away. Nebraska trailed 18-14, but put together a 6-1 run to take a 20-19 lead, giving Nebraska its first lead of the set. Foecke scored a pair of kills, Sun scored and Oregon committed three errors during the Huskers’ run.
The Ducks took the lead back with two straight points after a timeout to regain a 21-20 advantage. Nebraska came right back with a block and kill to make it 22-21 in the Huskers’ favor. Oregon came back and tied the set at 23, hoping not to squander the five-point lead it held earlier in the set.
That was not the case, however, as Foecke and Stivrins put back-to-back kills on the floor to win the set for Nebraska. The Huskers took the second set 25-23 and were one set away from the 15th national semifinal appearance in program history.
The Huskers were the ones to get off to a quick start in the eventual final set. Nebraska jumped out to an early 5-2 lead, looking to book its ticket to the Final Four. The Ducks had other plans and put together a 5-1 scoring run to take a 7-6 lead.
This was the final lead Oregon would hold, however. Nebraska went on a 4-0 run that began with an Oregon service error and was capped off by a service ace by freshman libero Megan Miller to give the Huskers a 10-7 lead.
Oregon struggled to keep pace as Nebraska increased its lead to 15-11. After 2-0 runs by both teams, the Huskers kept led 17-13, and the Ducks took their final timeout.
Nebraska began to pull away after the timeout. The Huskers scored three of the next four points to take a 20-14 lead. After an Oregon kill, Stivrins added two more of her own to give Nebraska a 22-15 lead. Each team added two points, and Nebraska drew within one point making the Final Four at 24-17.
Sun put away a kill on the next point to help the Huskers accomplish just that. Nebraska won the final set 25-17 to sweep Oregon.
Nebraska swept all four opponents it faced in the 2018 NCAA Tournament and did not lose a set in its last seven matches overall.
Nebraska will take on No. 3 overall seed Illinois in the national semifinal round of the tournament on Thursday, Dec. 13. The teams split their two matchups earlier this season.