The 10th-seeded Husker volleyball team booked their trip to the Sweet Sixteen Saturday night with a three set win over Florida State, 25-20, 25-22, 25-17. The Huskers improved to 23-7 with their 15th three-set win of the season. The team is now 27-2 all-time in the second round and 21-1 during John Cook’s tenure as head coach.
Nebraska had a hitting percentage of .262 throughout the night, highlighted by a strong third set where the team hit .349. Outside hitters junior Madi Kubik and freshman Ally Batenhorst led the way offensively with 12 and 11 kills respectively and combining for 69 total attempts. Senior middle blockers Lauren Stivrins and Kayla Caffey pitched in with 19 kills as well as leading the team in blocks with 4 and 5 respectively. Freshman outside hitter Lindsay Krause added in 8 kills, 6 of which came in the second set.
Cook said the defense was a difference maker tonight. Florida State had a .121 hitting percentage and only 31 kills compared to Nebraska’s 54. The Huskers recorded 71 digs, their second highest total in three sets this season.
“They had a hard time killing the ball on us,” Cook said. “They had two or three clean kills, everything else was hit off a block. They didn’t have many kills.”
Cook said the team did well at getting everyone involved, which senior setter Nicklin Hames attributed to consistently setting up the middle blockers.
“I think there’s always a focus on setting the middles as much as we can,” Hames said. “Especially after set two, we didn’t get them as many balls. So that was a focus of mine. And then our offenses overall flow a lot better when we can get them the ball because then it opens up Lindsay (Krause), it opens up the outsides and back row.
Hames had her 20th double-double on the season with 39 assists and 12 digs. She also added three kills in the third set.
Florida State ends its season with a 20-10 record, a record that head coach Chris Poole said exceeded expectations. Poole said this team was the youngest team he’s coached since 1994, while also having the fewest number of outside hitters he’s had since 1994.
“It was not the expectations that we had going into August, not that we didn’t want the expectations, but we knew we had six freshmen, we knew we had 12 healthy bodies,” Poole said. “I felt like the players just continued to work all fall. We ended up not having any what I would consider bad losses. Everybody we lost to was in the top 35 in the country. But when it would come time to play these more experienced, better teams, that’s where we would struggle.”
Poole said struggles to make runs on offense was the deciding factor in the match.
“Particularly the first two sets, it felt like we were playing close enough to be in the set but not being able to provide enough offense to be able to get a lead and make a push,” Poole said. “They were just better offensively than we were.”
Nebraska will play Illinois Saturday, Dec. 9 in Austin, Texas in the Sweet 16 after the Fighting Illini upset the reigning NCAA Champions and No. 7 seed Kentucky. It took only four sets for Illinois to take down the Wildcats, winning 25-22, 20-25, 25-10, 25-21. The Huskers are familiar with Illinois, facing them twice this season and winning both matchups in three sets. Illinois is 22-11 and finished seventh in the Big Ten.
Cook said he wasn’t at all surprised that Illinois beat Kentucky, and he said preparing for the Fighting Illini will be different than a typical NCAA Tournament game because of the teams have matched up multiple times this year.
“It will be a little bit easier to prepare for them, but I saw them doing some things today that we haven’t seen before,” Cook said. “We’ll always prepare hard and well but it’s gonna be a great match. It’s a big win for them, they’re gonna be feeling it.