GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The fifth-ranked Nebraska volleyball team battled valiantly but fell 3-2 (25-19, 18-25, 25-17, 18-25, 11-15) at No. 12 Florida at the VERT Challenge in Exactech Arena on Saturday night.
The young Huskers (0-2) won the first and third sets but could not overcome a 5-0 deficit to begin the fifth set as the Gators (2-0) won their second straight match over a top-five opponent for the first time in school history. Florida beat No. 1 Texas 3-1 on Friday night.
Mikaela Foecke had 18 kills and 16 digs for her second straight double-double to open the season. She took a career-high 59 swings, served four aces and tallied four blocks. Freshman Jazz Sweet followed up on her solid freshman debut with another impressive performance in her second match, connecting for 16 kills on 31 attacks for a .323 hitting percentage. Annika Albrecht had 11 kills, 16 digs and two aces, and Briana Holman had eight kills with four blocks. Her middle partner, Lauren Stivrins, had seven kills and three blocks.
A total of five Huskers reached double-digit digs, as Kenzie Maloney had 18, Sydney Townsend had 16 and Hunter Atherton had 16 to go with 43 assists for her first-career double-double.
Nebraska could not slow down Florida’s 6-8 middle blocker Rachael Kramer, who had 20 kills on 28 swings for a .679 hitting percentage.
Florida outhit the Huskers .214 to .155 and had an 11.5-to-7 edge in blocks. The Huskers outserved Florida with seven aces to just one for the Gators.
Set 1: Nebraska was sharp to begin the match, jumping out to a 6-3 lead with two kills by Foecke and one from Holman while Florida struggled with its attack. Holman hammered down an overpass for an 8-4 Husker lead, and a stuff block by Sweet and Stivrins made it 10-6. Atherton set Albrecht for an 11-6 Husker lead, and Sweet connected from the right side to make it 12-7. A kill by Stivrins, a block by Holman and Foecke, followed by a Holman kill and a Florida hitting error – all on freshman Hayley Densberger’s service run – increased the Huskers’ lead to 17-9 via a 4-0 run. Florida came out of a timeout and won the next three rallies, which forced a Husker timeout. Holman gained sideout for the Huskers briefly, and later Foecke connected from the right side for a 19-14 lead. A key dig by Maloney resulted in a kill by Sweet, and Foecke added another for a 21-14 edge. Maloney bump set Sweet for her fourth kill, which made it 23-18 Huskers. A Florida service error gave NU set point at 24-19, and an Albrecht ace immediately clinched set one for the Huskers. NU outhit the Gators .200 to .061.
Set 2: Sweet and Foecke struck for back-to-back kills to dig NU out of an early 4-2 deficit, but the Gators regained a 14-4 lead with a 10-0 run on the strength of the jump serve of Carli Snyder, which NU had difficulty passing. Kramer had four kills during the run. Nebraska trailed 21-9 before stringing together a 9-3 rally that included back-to-back blocks by Holman and three set points fought off. But Florida remained in control and won 25-18, outhitting the Huskers .239 to .140.
Set 3: Florida led 3-0 before the Huskers went on a 9-2 run. Sweet had three kills, and Holman had two to get the Huskers on top. The Huskers continued their strong play and increased the lead to 18-8 with a smash and solo block by Foecke on consecutive plays. The Gators cut it to 19-14 with a 4-0 run with Snyder on the service line, but that run ended when she served into the net, and Foecke followed with a kill before Florida hit long to give NU a 22-14 advantage. Albrecht gained set point for the Huskers and then clinched the set at 25-17 with back-to-back kills to give the Big Red a 2-1 lead.
Set 4: The Huskers went up 6-3 before Florida ran off five points in a row. A kill by Stivrins and ace by Townsend leveled the set at 8-8. A pair of Husker hitting errors gave Florida a 13-11 edge, and the Gators built the lead to 18-12 with a 5-0 spurt as Snyder served another UF run. The Huskers got out of the rotation with a kill by Albrecht but then committed a service error. NU trimmed the deficit to 19-15 but Florida responded to go up 21-15. The Huskers countered with two more points, but Florida closed the set on a 4-1 run to win 25-18 and force a fifth set.
Set 5: Florida won the first rally with a kill by Shainah Joseph, and that put Snyder at the service line. She served Florida into a 5-0 lead before the Huskers could get on the board. After kills by Foecke and Holman and a Florida shot into the net, Nebraska was within 5-3. But the Gators took an 8-4 lead as the teams changed sides. Trailing 9-4, Sweet got a kill and Foecke served an ace. But a Rhamat Alhassan kill made it 10-6 Gators. Stivrins posted a kill then teamed up with Foecke for a stuff to pull NU within 13-10. The Gators went ahead 14-10. Stivrins helped the Huskers stave off the first set point with a kill, but Kramer put the match away with her 20th kill.
Up Next: Nebraska plays its home opener on Friday at Noon against UMBC as part of the Ameritas Players Challenge. The Huskers will also play Oral Roberts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and will finish the tournament against Saint Mary’s on Saturday at 2 p.m.