Posted By: Sports
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
LINCOLN, Neb. - The No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team captured the Big Ten Conference title on Senior Night with a 3-1 (25-19, 25-17, 22-25, 25-21) win over No. 18 Michigan in front of a crowd of 8,210 at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday.
The Huskers captured their 33rd overall conference championship and second in the Big Ten - but first since 2011 - by finishing the rugged conference schedule with an 18-2 record, the best mark in Nebraska's six years in the conference. Nebraska's win over the Wolverines (22-10, 11-9 Big Ten) initially gave the Huskers at least a share of the conference title, and NU claimed the outright title about an hour later when No. 3 Wisconsin lost at No. 2 Minnesota in five sets.
The Huskers finished the regular season with a 27-2 overall record and will find out their NCAA Tournament path on Sunday night when the NCAA Tournament Selection Show airs on ESPNU at 8 p.m.
"I just told the team this has been one of the toughest grinds for a conference championship," Head Coach John Cook said. "I don't know how much they really appreciate and understand it, but I really want them to celebrate this as a great effort by them in the toughest conference I've ever seen."
Nebraska came into the match on a mission and controlled the first two sets in 25-19 and 25-17 wins. After a sloppy start to the third set, the Huskers eventually found themselves in a 24-16 hole. The Huskers strung together a 6-0 run to make it interesting - and although they lost the set - their energy carried into the fourth set, as they sprinted ahead 7-2 and fended off a late Michigan charge for the 25-21 clincher.
Mikaela Foecke led the Huskers with 18 kills on .417 hitting. Kadie Rolfzen celebrated her final regular-season match as a Husker with her 46th career double-double - 11 kills and 16 digs - and became the seventh Husker all-time to surpass 1,500 career kills. Briana Holman added 11 kills and five blocks, and Amber Rolfzen had four kills and seven blocks. Andie Malloy swung for six kills. Redshirt freshman Olivia Boender came off the bench in set three to spark the Huskers and did just that, finishing with seven kills, her most since September 24 at Michigan State.
Kelly Hunter had her team-best eighth double-double of the season with 49 assists and 12 digs, and senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes led the back row once again with 17 digs. She became the first Husker in school history to surpass 1,800 career digs. Kenzie Maloney added 13 digs, and Annika Albrecht had 12.
"I can honestly say that this team really worked hard every match," Wong-Orantes said. "Going into a match with the same mindset that we wanted to to take this conference and this was our goal since January. I think we did a really good job of grinding it out for 10 weeks. It's a really hard conference and a hard season. We did a really good job of just playing match for match."
The Huskers outhit Michigan .222 to .115 and won the digs battle, 83-66, and blocks, 12-10. Claire Kieffer-Wright and Carly Skjodt led the Wolverines with 13 kills each.
Set 1: Nebraska's seniors came to play with Kadie Rolfzen and Malloy posting early kills, and Amber Rolfzen adding a solo block and a kill for a 5-3 Husker lead. The Huskers pulled ahead 12-7 after a Foecke kill and a block by Holman and Kadie Rolfzen. Michigan took its first timeout, and then immediately took its second timeout when Nebraska went up 14-8 on a block by Kadie and Amber Rolfzen. Malloy and Amber Rolfzen teamed up for the Huskers' fifth block of the set to give them a 15-10 lead. Michigan cut it to 16-13, but Foecke terminated and then combined for a block with Holman to put the lead back at five. The Wolverines hit long and Holman added a kill for a 20-13 lead off of a 4-0 Husker run served by Sydney Townsend. The Huskers took a 25-19 win, finishing with six blocks while holding Michigan to .020 hitting.
Set 2: Foecke struck for four kills to give Nebraska a 10-5 lead, but Michigan answered with three straight points to get within 10-8. Hunter turned to Foecke again, and she delivered her eighth kill of the night. Kadie Rolfzen tacked on a pair of kills and then served an ace to give the Huskers a 15-10 lead at the media timeout. A pair of Michigan kills followed by a Husker ball-handling error trimmed Nebraska's lead to two, 17-15. Kills by Foecke and Kadie Rolfzen pushed the lead back to four at 21-17 and forced a Michigan timeout. After the break, Holman and Kadie Rolfzen combined for a stuff block, and Holman tipped home a kill for a 23-17 lead, and the Wolverines used their final timeout to try and stop the momentum. But it didn't matter, as the Huskers scored the final two points out of the timeout to end the set on a 6-0 run and win 25-17. Nebraska totaled 17 kills with just two errors for a .500 hitting percentage in the set.
Set 3: Michigan took a 6-2 lead after a collection of errors by the Big Red to begin the set. The Huskers reeled off four straight points to get within 8-7, with Amber Rolfzen posting a kill and a block with Hunter, and Malloy adding a kill. But Michigan responded with a 7-0 run to go up 15-7. Nebraska began to rally with kills by Boender, Foecke and Amber Rolfzen to cut it to 15-10. But Michigan's lead went up to nine at 21-12 after a 6-2 run. A 3-0 Husker run pulled them within 22-16, but the Wolverines earned set point at 24-16. Nebraska valiantly fought off six set points, including a Kadie Rolfzen kill and ace, but Michigan finished the job at 25-22 with a Carly Skjodt kill.
Set 4: Nebraska carried the momentum from its comeback attempt in set three into set four, as Holman and Boender each smashed a pair of kills, and Kadie Rolfzen terminated for an early 7-2 lead. Foecke tallied two more kills to make it 14-6, and Boender pounded another for an 18-9 lead. Michigan put together a 4-1 run, but the Rolfzen twins combined for a block and a 20-13 lead. Michigan did not go away, trimming the deficit to 21-17 and forcing a Husker timeout. After the Wolverines served wide, they came right back with three more points to cut it to 22-20. But Foecke blasted the Huskers out of the rotation, and then gave Nebraska match point at 24-20. Foecke finished off the championship with her 18th kill of the night.
Up Next: The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will air on Sunday at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. With the Huskers likely to host the first and second round for the 12th straight year, some standing-room only tickets remain for sale online at Huskers.com or through the Nebraska Athletics Ticket Office. Should the Huskers be selected as one of the top-four national seeds, they would be in line to host a regional if they advance past the second round. The first and second rounds will be played December 2-3, while regionals are set for December 9-10.