Hawaii runs a unique offense, relying on almost anyone being able to get a kill. One particular reason is the state’s familiarity with beach volleyball, something the Rainbow Wahine excel at and dominated Nebraska in beach volleyball back in March.
Now, the two schools played each other with an Elite Eight appearance on the line.
Beach volleyball requires each player to be more well-rounded, and that helped Hawaii leading for the majority of the first set despite being outsized up front.
“I’m undersized and people are always like, they’re bigger than you,” 5-foot-9 redshirt junior outside hitter Brooke Van Sickle said. “I don’t care. Jump high, hit hard”
Hawaii’s offense played well through Van Sickle’s kills and senior setter Norene Iosia. Iosia was a force on offense, getting kills and setting up Hawaii’s offense to excel past the stingy Husker defense. Down 16-13, Nebraska had fallen behind and needed a boost to stay ahead.
Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames led the charge, notching a kill and two serving aces. With the set tied at 16, junior outside hitter Lexi Sun’s kill gave Nebraska its first lead of the match.
After that, Nebraska and Hawaii were tangled in constant rallies for the rest of the set. Kills by both sides intensified the stakes of the set, especially with both crowds getting into the match.
A few points stood between Hawaii stealing the set or Nebraska pulling one out. Hawaii had the chance to take the set when up 27-26, but Hames’ third kill ended any hope. Another block from Sweet along with Van Sickle hitting the net ended the first set at 29-27.
“We went back to the basics,” junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “We were taking big risks. We weren’t tipping, we were just going after it.”
Hames’ style of play in the first set was similar to that of a Hawaii player, doing everything that she could get a point or stop a point. Hames had three kills, 13 assists, two aces and two digs to finish the first set.
The first set was over and both teams moved on. Nebraska took that opportunity and jumped out to a 6-1 lead. The potent Hawaii offense was stifled as Nebraska had eight blocks in the set.
Freshman middle blocker Amber Igiede and junior middle blocker Skyler Williams had one kill between the two in the second set, while Van Sickle had just two kills. The trio combined for 11 kills in the first set but Hawaii had no quit and waited for its chance to strike back.
Nebraska’s dominant start ended just as quickly as it began, with the offense coming back down to Earth. Sun and Kubik were both blocked while errors on the serve let Hawaii back into the match.
The second set was similar to the first except this time, the defenses carried the show. Hawaii had six blocks while the Huskers had eight blocks in the second set. The match had turned from an offensive clinic to an ugly match.
“They were really hitting off our block in game one really well,” head coach John Cook said. “We don’t see those players in the Big Ten… and so we made some adjustments blocking and started blocking balls.”
Multiple attack errors and struggles on serves from both sides eventually tied the match at 17. It would take only one scoring run to end the set and Nebraska achieved that through the block.
Sun and Stivrins had two consecutive blocks, giving Nebraska a 19-17 lead. A couple of kills from the offense gave Nebraska a 21-17 lead and another points exchange began, ending in a 25-22 win for Nebraska.
Despite the offensive struggles of the second set, Sun had seven kills while Sweet had nine kills through the first two sets. The duo were the offensive leaders and led the Huskers into the third set.
“Definitely just trusted my training and trying to get the energy to my team,” Sweet said. “That was through big rips, going up there and trying to swing high.”
Nebraska’s offense was unstoppable in the third set, hitting .457 with no attack errors. The lack of attack errors were the driving force behind the sweep for Nebraska as the clean offense pulled away from the set.
Similar to the second set, Nebraska went up 5-1 right away and Hawaii fought its way back into the match. Another rally began as Stivrins got back into shape, hitting .600 with three kills, while Van Sickle and Iosia bounced back with nine combined kills themselves.
The offenses continued to contribute until Nebraska pulled away at the end of the set. Nebraska was up 18-17 before going on a 7-2 run to end the set. Sun’s seventh kill was match point and Nebraska closed out the set, something it struggled at against its next opponent.
“We’re in a regional final and that’s the most important thing right now,” Cook said. “It doesn’t matter how good you play. It’s just finding a way to win three games.”
No. 5 Nebraska goes up against No. 4 Wisconsin at 5 p.m. on Dec. 14 in the Elite Eight.