Kansas volleyball falls to Nebraska in 4 sets at NCAA Tournament
Lincoln, Neb. — It is a streak that defies all logic. It looks like a typo, or a joke, but it is very real and it continued Friday as Nebraska defeated Kansas 25-14, 25-18, 19-25, and 26-24 in the second round of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
The Cornhuskers (26-5) are now 88-0-1 all-time against their former conference foe. From 1975 through Friday, Nebraska hasn’t slipped up against the Jayhawks. Not once has Nebraska had a bad night or failed to overcome and injury, nor have the Jayhawks played the match of their lives when Big Red was on the other side of the net. Even Kansas’ 2015 Final Four run came to an end against Nebraska.
“That’s crazy,” Nebraska setter Nicklin Hames said as her eyes widened. “I did not even know that stat. Wow.”
Nebraska, which made five attack errors in Thursday’s sweep of Delaware State, equalled that number in the first 28 points Friday but led, 17-11, thanks to its sterling defense. The Cornhuskers were the nation’s best team in hitting percentage defense in the regular season, allowing opponents to hit .129. That was on display during a 12-4 run during which Kansas made four errors.
Kansas senior Anezka Szabo, who played two seasons at Nebraska, scored a kill on the match’s first point but the Jayhawks had just one more kill the rest of the set to go with 10 attack errors for a -.250 hitting percentage.
“I think it was us trying to stick our toe in the water and see how it was going to be,” Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. “We haven’t seen that type of physicality.”
The Jayhawks offense rebounded with 12 kills in Set 2. Lauren Dooley’s big swing put Kansas ahead, 11-10, but Nebraska responded with a 8-2 run capped by Bekka Allick’s kill off the block. The Jayhawks were never closer than four the rest of the set.
Caroline Bien had two aces in a 4-0 Kansas run that put her team ahead, 8-5, in the third set. Szabo’s tip stretched the lead to 12-8 and forced Nebraska to use its first timeout of the match. Nebraska cut the deficit to 17-15 but Langs’ slide shot followed by a block restored Kansas’ lead and momentum.
It was just the 20th time in 89 matches against the Cornhuskers that Kansas had won a set.
Freshman Rhian Swanson, who’d played in just 24 sets this season and none Thursday’s win against Miami, had six kills in the set. She finished with a team-best 14, one less than her season high. Nebraska coach John Cook admitted Swanson was not included in his scouting report.
“We were confident in her. We had all of two kills in the first set so we knew we needed to make some changes,” Bechard said.
Hopes of stretching Nebraska to five sets for the first time since Nov. 23, 1990, were high during a taut fourth set in which neither team led by more than three.
Langs’ kill gave Kansas a 15-14 lead and the lead teetered back-and-forth until Nebraska won the last two points. A kill from Lindsay Krause split two back row defenders and caused the sellout crowd of 8,235 to leap to its feet in celebration, and relief.
“Every point was a grind,” said Allick who hit .562 for Nebraska. “That fourth set was electric.”
Kansas (19-11) hit .152, its third-lowest mark of the season.
“We gave ourselves a chance after getting off to such a slow start,” Bechard said. “Wish we could have gotten it to a fifth set.”
Szabo finished with six kills in her final college match. During prematch introductions, the Nebraska crowd cheered when her name was announced.
“It felt good to still feel appreciated here,” she said.
Big 12 surge
All five Big 12 teams in the tournament – Kansas, Iowa State, Texas, Baylor, and TCU – won their first match in the tournament, as did future conference members Central Florida, Houston, and Brigham Young.
Baylor and Texas advanced to the Sweet 16, giving current Big 12 schools a 7-1 record in the tournament.