LINCOLN, Neb. – The Nebraska volleyball team won its second straight Big Ten championship with a 3-0 (25-12, 25-15, 25-23) sweep of Iowa on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 8,276 on Senior Night, the 234th consecutive regular-season sellout in Nebraska volleyball history.
The Huskers (26-4, 19-1 Big Ten) won their 34th all-time conference title and third since joining the Big Ten with their 13th straight win of the season. Penn State has an opportunity to share the title with the Huskers should the Nittany Lions beat Minnesota on Saturday night. But because of their win over Penn State in the lone meeting between the teams this season, the Huskers earned the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and will make their 36th straight NCAA Tournament appearance next weekend.
Nebraska finished the conference schedule with its most-ever wins in Big Ten play (19). The Huskers dropped just 11 sets in Big Ten play this season, their fewest conference sets lost in a season since losing seven in 2010 in their final year in the Big 12.
“If you had asked me in August if we would be having this conversation tonight, I’m not sure I would have believed you,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “But I started getting hope on the first day of practice when they did the presentation (of the team slogan ‘With Each Other, For Each Other’). I felt like this group had something special, and I think they have really played great as a team. To do what they’ve done over 10 weeks and not have mess-ups and bad nights, and continue to believe through the whole thing is an incredible accomplishment.”
Mikaela Foecke paced the Huskers with 15 kills on .400 hitting. Briana Holman had 10 kills and eight blocks on .571 hitting to celebrate her senior night in style. Fellow senior Annika Albrecht also had a solid performance with nine kills and 10 digs, as well as some key service runs. Senior Kelly Hunter set the Huskers to another Big Ten title with 30 assists and a match-high 14 digs. Sydney Townsend had four digs in her final regular-season match as a Husker, and Allie Havers was also honored in the five-member senior class.
The Huskers outhit the Hawkeyes .255 to .067 and had a 10.5-to-6.0 edge in blocks. Taylor Louis led Iowa (18-15, 7-13 Big Ten) with 14 kills.
Set 1: The Huskers got off to a hot start after Albrecht served NU to a 4-0 lead with an ace and two kills by Foecke. Later, kills by Foecke and Albrecht increased the lead to six at 9-3. Iowa scored five of the next seven points to get within 11-8 before a 6-0 Husker spurt made it 17-8 as Foecke pushed her total to seven kills. NU doubled up the Hawkeyes at 20-10 on a block by Holman and Foecke, and the Big Red finished off a dominating first set at 25-12. The Huskers outhit Iowa .591 to .043 with Foecke pounding eight kills on .889 hitting.
Set 2: Nebraska trailed 7-5 before reeling off a 5-0 run to take its first lead of the set. Foecke, Sweet, Albrecht and Holman smacked consecutive kills, and an Iowa hitting error made it 10-7 Huskers. NU pushed its advantage to seven at 15-8 after Sweet added two more kills and teamed with Stivrins for a block. Iowa cut the Husker lead to 16-12, but the Huskers rebuilt their cushion to 19-13 with Foecke tallying a kill and a block with Holman. A solo block by Holman pushed the Big Red lead to 22-14, and the Huskers went up 2-0 in the match with a 25-15 win after Holman added yet another block and a kill to finish it off. Foecke had five more error-free kills in the set to bring her two-set total to 13, and Holman was dominant with six blocks alone in set two.
Set 3: The Huskers went ahead 9-4 after Holman combined with Sweet for a block and smashed a kill to cap a 5-0 run. Iowa fought back to tie the set at 13-13, but Albrecht terminated out of the back row to make it 14-13. The Hawkeyes didn’t go away, taking a 15-14 lead. The lead was brief, however, as Iowa served long after the media timeout and then hit wide to restore a 16-15 Husker lead. After Iowa reclaimed a 17-16 lead, Holman stepped up with two kills and Iowa committed an error to make it 19-18 Huskers. Albrecht kept a rally alive with her foot, and she and Stivrins and Sweet tallied a block for a 20-19 lead. But the Hawkeyes rallied from a 21-19 deficit to score three straight and go ahead 22-21, as Louis killed three rallies in a row. Miscommunication by the Huskers on the first rally out of a timeout cost them another point, and Iowa led 23-21. Albrecht got a sideout with her ninth kill, and Foecke followed with her 14th to tie the set at 23-23. Foecke hammered another kill after an Iowa timeout for match point at 24-23. With Albrecht serving, the Huskers won on an Iowa attacking error.
Up Next: The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will take place on Sunday at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.