Nebraska volleyball had a successful opening weekend in the NCAA Tournament, sweeping both Hofstra and Missouri. The Huskers will now head to Minneapolis for the Regionals, where they’ll square off against Kentucky.
NEBRASKA BABY! After making quick work of the Hofstra Pride on Friday evening, Nebraska volleyball faced a tougher opponent for their second round match in the Missouri Tigers. This match-up worried me a bit, as Mizzou dominated Arizona in their first round match.
Nebraska had a few hiccups early on, letting MU take a quick 3-0 lead in the first set, but settled down afterwards and never looking back. It’s hard to complain about much when the Huskers swept the Tigers and are heading to the Sweet Sixteen once again.
The star of Saturday’s match was without a doubt senior Mikaela Foecke, who was playing in her final match at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. It was the perfect way for Foecke to go out, as she’s been a stud since coming to Lincoln in 2015.
According to Brent C. Wagner of the Lincoln Journal Star,
"Foecke, who has twice been the MVP of the Final Four, had a match-high 16 kills on a season-best .667 hitting percentage. She also had four blocks and two ace serves."
Foecke is heating up at the perfect time and Nebraska will definitely need her if they want to make it to their fourth straight Final Four. There are still two opponents standing in the way of that goal, however, and the next one won’t be an easy opponent.
Kentucky is next on the schedule after they swept Purdue to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. I’d imagine this is being looked at as a “revenge game” for the Wildcats, as Nebraska beat Kentucky in Lexington last year to advance to the Final Four.
Kentucky was a four-seed last year while Nebraska was a five-seed. This year, Nebraska is the higher seed, sitting seventh nationally while the Wildcats are a ten-seed. Even with the lower seeding, make no mistake, this won’t be a cakewalk by any means. Kentucky is for real.
Going back to the win over Mizzou though, this was a very impressive win by the Huskers. It shows they’re gelling together and are out of that ugly slump we saw back in October when they dropped five matches in the span of six games.
What has impressed me most has been how well the newcomers have played in their first two games of tournament action, most notably freshman setter Nicklin Hames. Hames has really come into her own, notching 37 assists along with two service aces in Saturday’s win.
Hames’ position isn’t an easy one for a freshman to step into, but she has improved right before our very eyes. The nerves are still there at times, but that’s natural for a freshman setter, especially in these tournament matches. This offense goes as Hames goes and right now, both are rocking, and that’s a great sight for Husker fans.
With Minnesota winning their match on Saturday, Nebraska’s time at the Devaney Center is officially over in 2018, which is sad for the three seniors who played their final match there on Saturday. We went over Foecke’s dominating performance already, but it’s worth repeating that she was awesome, as usual.
Senior libero Kenzie Maloney had 12 digs in her final game at Devaney while leading the Huskers on a 7-0 run from the service line in the second set. Senior Brooke Smith saw some playing time in the third set, going on a 4-0 run at the service line.
This was as good of a weekend as possible for Nebraska volleyball and now, the true tests come for a team that has been through its ups and downs this season. Can they get past Kentucky to advance to the Elite Eight? We’ll find out on Friday.