MINNEAPOLIS – As Kentucky fans began to think there was a fourth set Friday, Nebraska players and coaches started collecting…
MINNEAPOLIS – As Kentucky fans began to think there was a fourth set Friday, Nebraska players and coaches started collecting a rally.
No. 6 Huskers had handily won the first two sets of their NCAA volleyball regional semi-final match the 10-ranked wild cats.
But the third set was another story to the end.
The wild cats broke into a line 18-11, but Huskers rallied and outscored Kentucky 1
4-5 to complete a 25-17, 25-20, 25-23 victory that moved them to Saturday’s 17.00 regional final against No. 14 Oregon .
The Ducks upset No. 2 Minnesota 3-1 Friday to advance to the regional finals for the first time since 2012, when the regional semifinals and finals were played at the then CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
After losing the first set 25-21, Oregon won a marathon second set 41-39 before it ended the Gophers season with wins 25-14 and 26-24.
Nebraska defeated Oregon 25-21, 25-21, 26-24 on August 25 at VERT Challenge in Lincoln. It was the first season for Huskers after an opening loss to Florida.
The winner of Kentucky was the 11th consecutive victory for 27-6 Huskers, who has now advanced to seven consecutive regional finals. Nebraska has made the regional finals 16 times in coach John Cook’s 19 seasons in Lincoln.
“I think Kentucky was struggling with our serve, blocking and defending the first two games,” Cook said. “We are the first defense in the country, and until you play us it’s hard to deal with it.”
Mikaela Foecke, who led all players with 14 killed, knew Huskers had to get Kentucky’s best shot after the break after the second game.
“When you get out and you’re down 0-2 you obviously want to play very hard,” said Foecke. “Your season is on the line at this time. You almost do not play to lose. We did not necessarily show the elasticity we should have in the beginning.”
“I think they utilized it from us. About half way through the race, we really started fighting and showed that we would win. “
Nebraska’s rally from its junction deficit began with a couple of deaths by Foecke, who came from two of the 38 assistants as beginner Nicklin Hames. An ace of another freshman defensive specialist Megan Miller, Nebraska will defeat 18-14.
Kentucky recouped a Miller service error before Huskers went on a 3-0 run to reach 19-17 when sophomore Lauren Stivrins had two deaths and the wildcats had an attack error by Avery Skinner.
The wild cats won three of the four following points to draw 22-18 and start thinking about extending the match to a fourth set.  A death of sophomore Lexi Sun and a block of sophomore Jazz Sweet and freshman Callie Schwarzenbach moved Nebraska to within 22-20 before a death by Brooke Morgan produced what proved to be Kentucky’s last point for the season.
Sweet and Foecke had the big swings that produced the last five po o one in the game and kept Nebraska dreams of defending their national championship is going strong.
With Nebraska subsequent 23-20, Sweet linked to kill from both left and right to get Huskers to w in one for the first time since the score was 7-6.
Foecke said it was nice to see Sweet come back in his swinging track after a tough Big Ten season.
“The two big killers were a huge torque switch for us and really gave us a lot of confidence,” says Foecke. “She then looks up and takes big ripples on it at an important moment when we really need her to be good. “
Foecke followed by the last three deaths, but it was a bit intriguing for the 24th point. It was originally assigned to Kentucky before being re-examined. Sweet demanded a breakthrough, but Cook quickly used one of his challenges for coaching to take a look at the game.
“I had everyone screaming at me and I’m trying to ask Jazz about Leah Edmond, and she is
NOW assistant Jaylen Reyes” be over it, “said Cook .
“That’s why I rent these young guys,” he says. said, “because they can see everything better than I can”.
Foecke then finished the match with his 14th death to win, improving Nebrask’s all-time NCAA tournament match to 111-31 (.782) second best win percent behind just Stanford (.796).
Cook said he was proud of Husker’s resiliency to rally in the crucial third game.
“It has been built all year,” said Cook. “Learning to win those close matches – we lost them back in October. It’s a lot of the big ten preparations, there’s what you saw.”
Sun, who did not play in the Nebraska August match against Oregon, said that Friday’s comeback shows the progress made by Huskers. She is also hopeful that growth will continue on Saturday against the ducks.
“Just knowing that at the start of the season, we probably would not have been able to do that,” said Sun. “I think it only shows our growth throughout the season. We came together as a team, we really struggled together as a team, and I think it paid.”
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