Nebraska sweeps Texas for NCAA volleyball final

Published 10:49 pm Saturday, December 19, 2015

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — There’s no place like home to win a national championship.

The “Go Big Red!” cheers started well before the first serve Saturday night and continued long after Nebraska had wrapped up its three-set sweep of Texas in the NCAA women’s volleyball title match.

“I think we had game point, and I can’t remember who said it, but they said, ‘I thought my eardrums were going to pop,’ ” setter Kelly Hunter said. “Just playing in front of the fans that we get to play in front of every home match is honestly unreal, and a lot of teams don’t see that.”

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The Cornhuskers (32-4) dispatched their old Big 12 rivals much faster than expected at CenturyLink Center, 50 miles from Nebraska’s Lincoln campus, and an NCAA volleyball-record 17,561 were on hand to relish every moment.

Nebraska had lost five matches in a row to Texas (30-3) and nine of the previous 10. The teams had gone to five sets in three of their last four matches, including in Austin in September.

This time the Huskers were in control while winning their fourth national championship. The first title was won in 1995 against Texas. The others came in 2000 and 2006.

“The environment tonight, the setting, Nebraska vs. Texas, and the crowd, national championship match, ESPN, everything else that went with it — and for us to come out and play a great match against a great team was just awesome to watch,” coach John Cook said. “I can say I’m really proud, which I am, but I’m really more proud of this team on the journey they took to get to this point and to be able to play their best match.”

Hunter fed outside hitter Mikaela Foecke early and often, and the freshman responded with a match-high 19 kills and was named Most Outstanding Player of the final four. Foecke hit .348 with 31 kills in wins over Kansas and Texas.

“I get a lot of confidence from my teammates, and Kelly sets the ball really well and we have so many great players that I’m not afraid to go up and swing because I know they have my back,” Foecke said.

Kelsey Fien punctuated the fourth-seeded Huskers’ big night when she slammed a set from Hunter. Fien went to her knees as her teammates swarmed the court to start celebrating the 25-23, 25-23, 25-21 victory.

Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani and Paulina Prieto Cerame led the third-seeded Longhorns with 11 kills, and Amy Neal added 10.

Nebraska became the 15th champion in the tournament’s 35 years, and second straight, to win by sweep.

Foecke, the Huskers’ 6-foot-3 outside hitter, had eight kills on 12 attacks in the first set and eight more on 15 attacks in the second.

“She and Kelly were in a very good rhythm,” Cook said. “I’ve seen Mikaela do this over and over this season. She’s done it in other big matches. She’s a powerful hitter and uses the whole court. She was on fire tonight.”

The first set was tied at 23 before the Huskers wrapped it up on Kadie Rolfzen’s kill and a block by Cecilia Hall and Hunter. The Huskers led the second set by three points on two occasions but Texas came back to tie each time and take a 22-21 lead. Foecke came up big, slamming two powerful kills and combining with Amber Rolfzen for a block to get it to set point. When Cerame hit too long, the Huskers went to the break up 2-0 in sets.

Texas led 13-12 in the third set when Foecke drove the ball wide, then Nebraska rattled off five straight points. Kadie Rolfzen tapped the ball to an open spot for a kill to make it 23-18 Nebraska, and her twin sister Amber’s kill pushed it to match point.

“Just playing defense, they’d get a good dig or block and come back swinging away,” Neal said. “They weren’t timid at all, weren’t afraid. Their defense, their touches, their passing were incredible, and that’s what made them succeed.”