Nebraska freshman outside hitter Lindsay Krause charged to the net and leaped into the air. The Papillion, Nebraska native, who was celebrating her 19th birthday, fired down the shot that was set up for her by senior setter Nicklin Hames. Krause’s shot bounced off the hands of a diving Texas Longhorn and sailed high into the crowd.
The Huskers swarmed the court, overwhelmed with felicity as, for the first time since 2018, they punched their ticket to the Final Four.
“We’ve lost this match three years in a row,” Nebraska volleyball assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand said postgame. “We’ve really been knocking on the door. This win means a lot.”
The 3-1 victory over No. 2 Texas was the toughest battle No. 10 Nebraska had all season. The Longhorns were entering the match with only one loss on the season, and were playing host with an immense home crowd.
But with 59 kills, 55 digs and nine service aces, the Huskers pulled off the win and claimed the regional title. Leading the charge on the night for Nebraska was junior outside hitter Madi Kubik, who finished the match with 15 kills and a hitting percentage of .041 off of 49 total attacks.
Alongside Kubik, the Huskers had a terrifying freshman trio of Krause, outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and libero Lexi Rodriguez. Batenhorst also finished the match with a season-high 15 kills and a hitting percentage of .406. Krause accompanied Batenhorst with 13 kills and a season-high hitting percentage of .500.
Rodriguez led the way for Nebraska’s defense. The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year finished the match with 20 digs, marking it her eighth 20-dig match of the season.
Another notable performance was from sophomore defensive specialist Keonilei Akana, who had a career-high seven service aces on the night.
“It was a loud environment,” Hildebrand said. “We were tested, especially in those later sets. It’s been a long time for our girls and this group to get over the hump. I’m really proud of them and it was a great effort.”
From the opening serve it was clear that the match would be a battle. While Texas got the lead first, Nebraska responded. With a Kubik kill, an Akana ace and a senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins block, the Huskers were up 5-4. With Nebraska now holding the lead, the Longhorns replied and tied the Huskers at five and six. But Nebraska stayed ahead of Texas and began to build on its lead.
Now up 13-9, the Huskers kept the Longhorns on their toes, even forcing them to call timeout. The pressure only continued to grow as Nebraska increased the margin to seven with a 17-10 lead, which caused Texas to call its second and final timeout of the set. However, the Longhorns didn’t seem to be out of it just yet, delivering three quick points on the Huskers. With the score now 17-13, it was Nebraska’s turn to call a timeout.
Following the break, the Huskers earned four straight points, pushing the margin up to eight. Texas didn’t stay down as it once again tried getting back into the set. However, Nebraska reached set point up 24-18. Though the Longhorns got the next point, Kubik responded with her fifth kill of the match, putting game one away 25-19.
Krause opened things up for the Huskers in set two, delivering a kill off of Texas hands. The Longhorns quickly equalized the score at one, then two, then four. Texas then took a turn at building momentum as it jumped out to a 6-4 lead but that momentum eroded. Nebraska took its turn with a two point lead, but the Huskers once again got deadlocked with Texas at nine, then 10, then 11.
After Nebraska broke the 11-11 tie, Kubik dropped in another kill to push Huskers’ lead to 13-11 causing the Longhorns to burn a timeout. Another timeout was called by Texas not long after as Nebraska soon made the score 16-11, then 19-11 after the timeout. The Longhorns did crack into the lead and tightened the margin to 20-15, forcing Nebraska to call timeout.
Texas wasn’t phased by the break. It eventually brought the score to 21-18, then 22-19. Things only grew closer as the Huskers now only led 22-21 when they called their second timeout. Once again the Longhorns weren’t phased, and tied the set at 22. But following a Longhorn service error, Nebraska regained the lead. Texas tied it back up before yielding another service error to hand the Huskers the set point.
Senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey took the opportunity to put the set away and didn’t waste it, firing down a kill to give Nebraska the 25-23 win. This was a familiar place for both teams however. Just two days prior, Texas was down 2-0 over No. 15 Washington and completed the comeback. As for the Huskers, they led then-No. 20 Utah 2-0 back in September and lost the match.
Nebraska opened up the third set with two straight points, but that would be Nebraska’s largest lead early on in set three. After tying all the way up to nine, the Huskers took control of the lead, with Texas right behind them. The two teams tied up again at 12, before Nebraska got the lead back. Following another tie at 13, the Longhorns got a hold of the lead.
Another tie commenced at 14, but the Huskers appeared to break the stalemate with three consecutive points. Akana landed two straight service aces that gave Nebraska a 17-14 lead. However, Texas quickly responded with two straight points of its own. Coming off a timeout, the intensity was now through the roof. After a temporary cushion, the Huskers soon only led 19-18.
Nebraska took the lead after tying it at 21. Following a timeout, Texas then reached set point with the score 24-22 after replay overturned an initial Texas service error. Then, the Longhorns took set three 25-23 to try and stay alive.
The battle continued into the fourth set, but there were signs that the Huskers were going to put the match away. Nebraska held the lead throughout the first half of set four, however it could not breakaway from Texas. With the Longhorns knocking on the door and even tying the score at 12, it was still anyone’s match. But then, the Huskers broke free and unleashed a vicious 8-0 run to go up 20-12.
With the eight point lead, Nebraska had the opportunity to punch its ticket to the Final Four once and for all. But Texas wasn’t going to let the Huskers win so easily. Soon the Longhorns cut the lead down to 21-19. Finally, Nebraska didn’t give Texas the chance as it reached set point, and Krause delivered the final kill to give the Huskers the ticket.
“It’s a really great rivalry,” Hildebrand said. “You can’t really deny that, because it goes back and forth. In 2015 Nebraska won, 2016 Texas won, last year they won, now we won.”
With its ticket, Nebraska will travel to Columbus, Ohio where it’ll face No. 3 Pittsburgh in the National Semifinals. The winner will then clash against either No. 4 Wisconsin or No. 1 Louisville for the National Championship. The first serve for the Huskers is set for Dec. 16 at 8:30 p.m.