Nebraska rebounds from loss, sweeps Oregon in VERT Challenge
LINCOLN — John Cook has been cautious this fall about the learning process his Nebraska volleyball team will go through replacing four starters and asking big things of several first-year players.
Winning can grease the gears of that mechanism, especially the kind of win No. 2 Nebraska earned Saturday, surging at the end of the third set to finish off a 25-21, 25-21, 26-24 sweep of No. 18 Oregon to end the VERT Challenge at the Devaney Center.
The Huskers (1-1) came back after trailing big in the first set, then needed a 6-2 run to close out the finale in front of 8,135 fans.
“In the last game, I thought we showed a lot of grit,” outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “I think at one point we were down 21-20, and for a young team to be able to come back like that is something good.”
Foecke, who put down a match-high 15 kills, actually shorted Oregon (0-2) one point on its advantage. The Ducks led 22-20 in the third as they sought to extend the match behind Lindsey Vander Weide, who registered eight of her 11 kills in the set. But Foecke put down a kill to draw the Huskers to within one, sending Lauren Stivrins back to serve.
The sophomore middle blocker has added serving to her repertoire this season, and she delivered an ace to tie it 22-22 and force Oregon’s final timeout.
“Honestly, I was just trying to keep it in and trust my training,” Stivrins said. “That was kind of the best-case scenario.”
The teams traded the next four points with the Ducks earning set point up 24-23 on a kill by Lauren Van Sickle, but Foecke again answered with a kill from the right side to tie it .
While it was the Huskers who had been error-ridden the night before with 30 hitting miscues against Florida, the Ducks committed Saturday’s final crucial mistake on the next rally when opposite hitter Willow Johnson pulled her shot just wide of the line to give Nebraska a match point, which the Huskers didn’t waste when Jazz Sweet drilled a ball off the Oregon block and out of play to end it.
“I thought we served tough, especially end of games when we needed to,” Cook said. “Really, at the end there in Game 3, I thought serving was the difference.”
Oregon’s quick-tempo offense faltered often. The Ducks hit .176 and had plenty of self-inflicted mistakes. Oregon missed 12 serves, and only four of the team’s 20 hitting errors came from a Nebraska block.
The Huskers, on the other hand, cleaned up enough of their mistakes from Friday night to get their first win of the season. They committed 12 hitting errors, and while they still struggled at times to put away quality chances, they handed Oregon few free points.
Foecke’s 15 kills came on 40 error-free swings, and freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach celebrated her 19th birthday Saturday with six kills and no errors.
“She plays a very mature game,” Stivrins said. “She’s very poised. She’s just a huge block and she’s got a great arm, so I think she’s going to do wonders for this team.”
Nebraska recorded only four blocks in the match, but a Stivrins solo stuff sparked a 7-2 run after the Huskers had fallen behind 15-9 in the first set. Oregon eventually led 20-17 before Foecke’s out-of-system kill was the first of seven straight NU points to take control of the opener.
“She stepped up tonight,” Cook said. “She’s got to be that kind of player for us until we get these guys going a little bit more.
“Get big kills, and I think our team feeds off that when she does. Tonight, she was bringing it.”
After opening with two top-20 teams, the Huskers won’t play again until the Ameritas Players Challenge Friday when they host Ohio and Wake Forest followed by a Saturday match against Santa Clara.
The process continues, Cook said, with more answers yet to be found. With transfer Lexi Sun still out with an injury, the coach said choosing the Huskers’ second outside hitter could be a game-by-game decision. Freshman Capri Davis started against Oregon but was replaced by Sami Slaughter after getting one kill on 12 swings.
Slaughter, a sophomore from Harrisburg, South Dakota, provided a spark with four kills without an error.
“Shake it up and roll it out,” Cook said. “Whoever’s swinging and aggressive is gonna play. It’s probably going to be a revolving door. Sami came in tonight and brought it.”
With a young group, there’s no substitute for experience, however you can get it. Saturday, NU’s four freshmen got their second taste of playing in front of a Devaney Center crowd with every eye trained on them, but got their first exposure to something more private.
A victorious locker room.
“Obviously our serving errors are still too high. We can probably be better attacking, too,” Foecke said. “But one of the main things that we can take away is we are a special group, and we can come together to win a big game, and we proved that tonight.”
Oregon (1-1).................21 21 24
At Nebraska (1-1)...........25 25 26
OU (Kills-Aces-Blocks): Vander Weide 11-1-1, Johnson 8-0-0, Van Sickle 8-0-0, Gill 7-0-1, Stone 5-1-4, Raskin 2-0-2, Borup 2-0-1, Tastad 0-1-0.
NU: Foecke 15-0-1, Sweet 8-0-2, Schwarzenbach 6-0-2, Stivrins 5-1-2, Slaughter 4-0-0, Miller 1-0-0, Davis 1-0-0, Hames 0-1-0.
Set Assists: O 42 (Raskie 36, Gill 2, Vander Weide 2, Van Sickle 2), N 39 (Hames 35, Maloney 4). Att.: 8,135