LEXINGTON, Ky. — Mikaela Foecke served three consecutive points, and then it was four. Five, six, and was this really happening?
When it was over the junior outside hitter had served a 7-0 run for the Nebraska volleyball in the second set, and that’s not supposed to happen when the opponents are good in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
But that’s the kind of dominance the Huskers showed Friday in a three-set win against Colorado, and have for most of the tournament. The Huskers have swept all three matches, and haven’t allowed an opponent to score more than 21 points in any of the nine sets they've played.
Friday the Huskers used several long serving runs, nine ace serves and an efficient attack to quickly and easily push aside Colorado 25-19, 25-11, 25-21 in an NCAA Sweet 16 match.
Late in the match, the Colorado players and coaches looked stunned by what was happening, as the Husker kept getting kills, even on out-of-system plays.
The fifth-ranked Huskers have won 16 straight matches, and will now play sixth-ranked Kentucky on Saturday, with a spot in the Final Four waiting for the winner.
Foecke’s 7-0 serving run put the Husker up 18-6 in the second set. Colorado tried to change things up with its passing to end the run, but the sinking feeling just continued as the Huskers kept winning points.
“We could not get in-system and really struggled to get a side out there and that was certainly the turning point in that set,” Colorado coach Jesse Mahoney said.
During that run Colorado had two hitting errors, and one bad set. Foecke had an ace, and Briana Holman, Jazz Sweet and Annika Albrecht each had kills.
A run like that can raise the confidence of the entire team, Foecke said.
“You can kind of see the other team breaking down,” she said
Nebraska coach John Cook wasn’t surprised by Foecke’s long serving run, but he was impressed. For the server it’s like being on an island by yourself when you’re serving a run like that, Cook said.
“So many times you see two serves, two points, and then somebody misses all the time,” Cook said. “So that was really good mental toughness by her, or what I call emotional stamina.”
And even when the Huskers weren’t serving aces in the match, Colorado was scrambling to pass the serve and get a good set. Nebraska’s tough serving helped hold Colorado to a .109 hitting percentage, well below its season average of .252. Nebraska had a .292 hitting percentage.
When the Buffaloes got an upset win against Baylor in the second round, the Colorado players felt like they had done a good job serving and passing. This time, Colorado senior Anna Pfefferle said that’s what the Huskers did.
“I think they did a good job switching out between serving deep and serving short,” Pfefferle said. “That definitely keeps passers on their toes, because they don’t know what to expect.”
Just like Nebraska has balance with its hitting, the same could be said of its serving. Four players — Kelly Hunter, Kenzie Maloney, Hayley Densberger and Foecke — each had two ace serves. Albrecht had the other one.
Before Foecke’s long serving run in the second set, Maloney served a 6-0 run that included two aces.
To end two of the three sets, Nebraska had an ace serve for the final point. Hunter had an ace in the first set. Then on match point, Albrecht served an ace, with the ball hitting off a Colorado player and falling to the floor.
In three tournament matches, the Huskers have 25 ace serves and 17 serving errors.
Albrecht led the Huskers with 13 kills on a .344 hitting percentage, including kills on each of her first three attempts of the match. Sweet had nine kills with a .533 hitting percentage. Foecke had seven kills, and Lauren Stivrins and Holman six apiece.
Nebraska advanced to the Elite Eight for the sixth straight season. If the Huskers win Saturday it would mark the first time in program history that Nebraska has reached the Final Four in three consecutive seasons.
During the first week of the season Nebraska lost both matches, and later a shocking third loss came against Northern Iowa. But now the Huskers (29-4) are back in the familiar spot of having a chance to get to the Final Four.
“Since early on, it’s always been a dream of ours to come here and make it this close,” Albrecht said. “I’m not sure of the exact time that we thought it was definitely possible, but we’re excited to be here.”