Before her team’s first match at the NCAA regionals, Nebraska senior Mikaela Foecke served notice that the Cornhuskers still had room for improvement.
“We’ve had some shining moments,” she said. “But we’re still working toward playing our best volleyball. We’re definitely not there yet.”
That’s a scary prospect for the rest of the Final Four. After sweeping its first three foes in the NCAA tournament, Nebraska did it again Saturday, defeating Oregon 25-22, 25-23, 25-17 in the regional finals at Maturi Pavilion to reach its fourth consecutive Final Four. The defending national champions, the Huskers (28-6) will face Big Ten rival Illinois in the national semifinals Thursday at Target Center.
Foecke, a co-captain who was named the most outstanding player of the regional, led the way.
The Ducks (23-11), who upset the Gophers in Friday’s regional semifinals, hit well in the first two sets before fading. The Cornhuskers held the edge in kills (48-42), digs (53-47), blocks (5-2) and hitting percentage (.345-.250).
“Our team made some adjustments and found a way to win some close games and some big points,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Mikaela and [senior co-captain] Kenzie Maloney continue to raise a very high bar for Nebraska, with four straight Final Fours now. It’s hard to put that into words, how hard that is. I’m a proud coach.”
The Cornhuskers, who have won five NCAA titles, had never before been to four consecutive Final Fours.
Cook said he was impressed with Oregon’s offense, which kept the Gophers guessing in the Ducks’ 3-1 victory in Friday’s semifinals. The Ducks took an early lead on the Huskers in a back-and-forth opening set, and consecutive kills by Lindsey Vander Weide, August Raskie and Ronika Stone put them ahead 13-10.
Both teams struggled with their serve during the set, making nine service errors between them. A string of three Nebraska points — begun by a Stone service error — gave the Cornhuskers a 16-15 lead. They did not trail again, closing out a set in which they hit .400.
Oregon again led through much of the second set, holding a margin as large as four points before the Huskers closed the set on a 10-5 run.