By Greg Echlin for DestinationVolleyball.com
Nebraska had five AVCA All-Americans, one each on the first three teams. But it was the two honorable mentions—freshman outside hitter Mikaela Foecke and sophomore setter Kelly Hunter—who stood out in the end.
(Interviews with Texas libero Cat McCoy and star middle Chiaka Ogbogu are below)
And the end came where the volleyball world began its focus a year ago, in CenturyLink Center in Omaha, just about 50 miles from Lincoln, as the Cornhuskers dispatched Texas in three sets Saturday night to win the NCAA Division I Women’s Championship.
The final: 25-23, 25-23, 25-21, avenging a defeat to Texas back in September. Nebraska finished 32-4; Texas 30-3.
Foecke, who entered the program from Holy Trinity HS in Fort Madison, Iowa, as one of the nation’s highest-ranked prep stars and adjusted to a position switch to the left side during the season, was named the Most Outstanding Player as Nebraska won it all for the fourth time but first since 2006.
Which just happened to have happened in Omaha. CenturyLink also boasted a title-tilt—record crowd of 17,561, and it appeared as if most were clad in Huskers red.
“Go Big Red!” was the chant of the evening.
“I think I get a lot of confidence from my teammates,” said Foecke, who had 19 kills in 39 swings and hit .385. “Kelly sets the ball really well and we have so many great players that I’m not afraid to go up and swing. I know that they have my back.”
Foecke was just three short of her career-high when she had 22 kills at Penn State on Oct. 2.
“Foecke was on fire,” said Texas coach Jerritt Elliott. “She was hitting .562, so we were trying to slow her down.”
After finishing with 12 kills in the semifinal against Kansas, Foecke ended up with double figure kills in five of her six NCAA tournament matches.
“We had a pretty good matchup in the first two games when Texas rotated and tried to get (number) 27 (Yasmeen Bedart-Ghani),” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “They changed that matchup in game three.”
This was Cook’s third NCAA title. The Huskers also won in 2000, his first year in Lincoln.
Hunter had the title-clinching assist, one of her 42 assists on the night, when senior Kelsey Fien, who had her own struggles in the semifinal match and the final, put it away for the final point in the 25-21 third-set win. Fien had seven kills in 22 swings (.182), but it’s the last point that counts, right?
“They never cracked,” Elliott said. “Their sideout percentage was remarkable all the way through. They were relentless in the pressure siding out.”
But back to Hunter.
After redshirting last year, John Cook inserted Hunter into the lineup as starting setter in her sophomore season. Eight times this season, Hunter topped the 50-assist mark for the Huskers.
“Tonight I said very little to her because I just felt like she was seeing it and she was in a rhythm,” Cook said. “She was magical tonight setting the ball.
He added, “She’s a national-champion setter.”
A third unsung hero was Amber Rolfzen.
In the semifinal against Kansas, Rolfzen’s game was off with five kills and four attacking errors. She missed the previous Texas match because of an injury, but had an outstanding month of November during the stretch run of the Big Ten season after settling in as the Huskers’ middle blocker in an early-season position switch from the right side.
And capitalized on her opportunity in the title match with 10 kills on 16 swings and a match-high four block assists.
Both teams were rolling heading into the title match. The Huskers finished the season with 16 consecutive victories and had not lost since Oct. 24 in a home match against Wisconson, ranked No. 16 at the time.
The Longhorns won 12 in a row before losing the title match. Bedart-Ghani had 11 kills on 20 swings and teammate Paulina Cerame had 11 kills on 35 attacks.
Molly McCage, one of Texas’ three seniors along with Amy Neal and Kat Brooks, finished with seven kills.
“This time we played them their sideout game was incredible,” McCage said. “We tried to manage our game but there were on fire and they were really good.”
Nebraska celebration photo by Scott Bruhn, NU Communications. That’s Kadie Rolfzen (6), twin sister Amber to the right, and Kenzie Maloney airborne.