What a great start for Penn State.
What an even better finish by Nebraska.
The NCAA Tournament’s round of eight got off to a monster beginning on Friday as the top-seeded and defending-champion Huskers rallied from being down 0-2 and 22-24 in the third to come away with a 23-25, 23-25, 26-24, 25-19, 15-6 victory.
And that was just the first of eight matches.
The second was just as gripping as another host had to rally to advance. No. 3-seeded Wisconsin trailed 2-1 before winning in five.
How about Texas? The No. 4 seed had to rally from being down 12-7 in the fifth against BYU to win 16-14.
Nebraska’s not the only team from its state in the final eight. Upstart Creighton won its third five-set match of the tournament when the Bluejays knocked out No. 12-seeded Michigan.
Washington made short work of Pac-12 rival Arizona. Three other matches all went four as Stanford got past Florida State, Minnesota beat Missouri and UCLA ousted North Carolina.
No. 1 Nebraska 3, No. 16 Penn State 2
No. 8 Washington 3, Arizona 0
Nebraska vs. Washington, 3 p.m Central, ESPNU
No. 3 Wisconsin 3, Ohio State 2
No. 6 Stanford 3, Florida State 1
Wisconsin vs. Stanford, 5 p.m. Central, ESPNU
No. 4 Texas 3, BYU 2
No. 12 Creighton 3, Michigan 2
Texas vs. Creighton, 7 p.m. Central, ESPNU
No. 2 Minnesota 3, Missouri 1
No. 10 UCLA 3, No. 7 North Carolina 1
Minnesota vs. UCLA, 9 p.m. Central, ESPNU
In none of the four matches today have any of the teams faced each other this season.
Nebraska 3, Penn State 2
The Huskers improved to 30-2 and 17-1 at home and will play Washington at 3 p.m. Central on Friday.
Penn State, the No. 16 seed, ended its season 24-10 after losing to Nebraska for the third time this season.
“I think we could have won the first two games and it could have been a 3-0 match, Nebraska coach John Cook said. “We were tentative.
“When you have to beat a team that has nothing to lose that you’ve already beaten twice, it’s like we have to win the Big Ten again. There’s pressure and expectation that comes with that. We tightened up in games one and two. What turned it was winning game three so close. I think we relaxed and became the one who was hunting, instead of being hunted. We play best that way.”
Big Ten-champion Nebraska was led by junior Briana Holman as the middle had 17 kills — four in the fifth set — hit .583 and had seven blocks, two solo. Her 17 kills were her most at Nebraska after two seasons at LSU.
Senior middle Amber Rolfzen had 15 kills, hit .345, and had four blocks. Twin sister Kadie, a right side, had 14 kills, including the match-ender, a blast down the line. She also had a season-high 18 digs and four blocks. Senior outside Andie Malloy had 13 kills and sophomore Mikaela Foecke, including the last two of the third set.
Senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes was her usual magnificent self, with 18 digs, some spectacular. She also had two of Nebraska’s nine aces. Junior Annika Albrecht had three and a season-high 14 digs.
“After we won that third set, you could just sense from the team and on the court that we were going to win that match, whether we played perfect or not,” Amber Rolfzen said.
Penn State got a tremendous effort from sophomore outside Ali Frantti, who had 20 of her 21 kills in the first four sets and hit .327. She had nine in the first set alone. Frantti also had 15 digs and six blocks, all solo, including back-to-back on Holman midway through the third set. Frantti had a total of 16 kills in Penn State’s previous two matches with Nebraska.
Junior outside Simone Lee had 22 kills, hit .250, had 12 digs and three blocks. Junior middle Haleigh Washington had 10 kills, hit .304, and seven blocks, two solo.
“We didn’t close the deal and we lost a lot of our energy after (the third set),” said Penn State coach Russ Rose, who completed his 38th season. ”A couple of kids ran out of gas, and the benefit of playing at home is what you just saw here today.”
Penn State lost to the same team three times in one season for just the fourth time ever and first since 1991.
Wisconsin 3, Ohio State 2
Ohio State, which upset Kansas State in the second round, seemed ready to pull off another surprise before Wisconsin eventually prevailed 25-15, 22-25, 29-31, 25-22, 15-13.
The Badgers improved to 28-4 and will play at 5 p.m. Central Saturday against Stanford.
“Wow,” Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said. “So many wow things. Wow for the fans for packing the Field House and really, really, when we needed them and how loud they were. A lot of people called in sick or skipped work or class or whatever to get in here. I’m not sure we’d do that without the fans and how they were. So that was incredible.
“Wow to Geoff (Carlston) and his staff and Ohio State. It was a legendary match there. You really couldn’t get much closer than that those last four sets. He had his team believing and fighting. You know, those guys were just making — there were so many plays on their side.”
Ohio State’s season ended its season 22-13 as it lost the battle of Big Ten at-large entries.
Freshman outside Molly Haggerty led Wisconsin with 22 kills and hit .276 after 58 swings. She had 14 digs and two aces, but also struggled on serve receive. Senior middle Haleigh Nelson had 14 kills — including the match-ender — and hit .400. She also had six blocks, two solo. And junior outside Lauryn Gillis added 15 kills. Sophomore middle Tionna Wlliams had 11 kills and eight blocks, one solo. Senior setter Lauren Carlini had 62 assists, 16 digs and seven blocks.
“When those big moments come down to it at the end of the wire at the end of games, that’s when we’re the strongest, when we’re connecting, looking each other in the eyes, and knowing we have each other’s backs,” Carlini said. “That chemistry is really what pulled us through the game, honestly. I think fourth and fifth set, battling so hard in that environment, that is what successful teams do. That is what our team has been doing is just creating that chemistry and building on it.”
Ohio State was led by senior middle Taylor Sandbothe, who ended her All-American career with 13 kills and 10 blocks. Luisa Schirmer had 19 kills, 18 digs and five blocks. Their team hit .185.
“The only reason it doesn’t hurt more is because I know our team gave everything they had,” Ohio State coach Geoff Carlston said. “That’s what we talked about, and that’s what they demanded of themselves and demanded of each other.”
Washington 3, Arizona 0
The Pac-12 champions were not about to be upset by another team from its conference. The Huskies dispatched Arizona, which advanced by upsetting Michigan State last week, 25-15, 25-22, 25-18.
Washington improved to 29-4, while Arizona’s season ended 20-15.
As you would expect, the three-headed monster of junior outsides led Washington with Crissy Jones, Tia Scambray and Courtney Schwan getting 11 kills apiece. Jones hit .476 and had 10 kills. Kara Bajema had eight blocks and Jones and Avie Niece six each.
“Huge congratulations to Arizona Wildcats, a team we just had three tough matches with this season,” Washington coach Keegan Cook said. “They make you work for everything. I know these guys are going to be tired because they just really keep you off balance on defense. I’m really pleased with the team’s performance and execution of the scouting report.”
Saturday’s final pits the Big Ten champs vs. the Pac-12 champs.
“I think Keegan said it earlier, this is one of the best regionals,” Schwan said. “I think it’s going to be a great match. It’s tough that we see them (Nebraska) early, but again it’s a special match and it will be a fun match.”
Sophomore outside Kendra Dahlke led Arizona with 14 kills, but hit .047. Senior outside Kalei Mau had nine kills and hit .033 and her team hit .110 and had just two total blocks. Their team lost to UW for the third time this season.
“It’s just a bad dream that keeps happening,” Arizona senior setter Penina Snuka said. “I have to give it to Washington and their absolutely clean volleyball. It’s unfortunate we weren’t able to match that, but best of luck to them in the next round.”
Texas 3, BYU 2
The Longhorns are headed to their 11th consecutive regional final, but it took all they had to come away with a 25-23, 25-14, 24-26, 22-25, 16-14 over a gutty BYU team.
It left Texas 28-4 and headed into 7 p.m. Saturday match against either Michigan or Creighton.
BYU, which won the West Coast Conference, saw its season end 29-4.
Texas, which finished second in the Big 12, got a super performance from freshman outside Micaya White, who had 24 kills, hit .322, and had 20 digs. Junior right side Ebony Nwanebu had 19 kills, hit .340, and six blocks. Senior outside Paulina Prieto Cerame had 16 kills and four blocks, and sophomore middle Morgan Johnson had 11 kills and hit .500.
Texas was down 12-7 when it finally got going.
“It’s nice to be around a group of people that never for a second thought that we were going to lose, even though most people would believe that if you’re down 12-7, you can’t come back from that,” Nwanebu said.
“After tying the set at 12-12, BYU went up 14-12 on a put-back from big senior middle Amy Boswell, who had 14 kills and eight blocks. But Texas responded in a big way, getting match point on a big kill by Nwanebu.
The match ended when Boswell hit wide right.
“You know, BYU was playing extremely well. That last hitting error they made was I think the first hitting error they have had in quite some time,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “They just continued to put pressure on us from the defensive side and were able to side out a high level and control the ball. We started to make some plays at the end and transition for points, which was a really good job, our best rotation has been rotation one serving; they went on a big run, and we needed it to be alive today.
“So it’s part of this tournament, as I told my team, is that some games come down to one or two points. But we made those plays, and at the end, to give us an opportunity to advance. And so we live to breathe another day and keep pushing on.”
Senior middle Whitney Young Howard led the Cougars with 15 kills, hitting .500. Sophomore outside Lacy Haddock had 13 kills and 10 digs and sophomore outside Veronica Jones-Perry had 12 kills. Freshman libero Mary Lake was outstanding and her 30 kills included some remarkable pickups.
“I don’t think that I could be any more proud of the way the team played,” BYU coach Heather Olmstead said. “I thought, except for a lapse in the second set, it was phenomenal volleyball. I’m very proud of the team and the courage and fight that they showed in the match tonight.”
Boswell burst onto the national scene two years ago when BYU beat Texas in the national semifinals two years ago. This marked the end of a standout career.
“I don’t think we let that one slip away,” Boswell said. “We were fighting the entire time. Texas is obviously a fantastic team and volleyball is a game of runs. We just came up a little short and their run was a little longer than ours.”
Stanford 3, Florida State 1
Senior middle Inky Ajanaku had a big-time match, leading with 17 kills while hitting .538. She had four blocks, one solo. Freshman Kathryn Plummer had 15 kills and nine digs as Stanford improved to 24-7.
“Wisconsin has a really great team. They come with a lot of fire and a lot of energy, and we’re ready to match that,” Ajanaku said. “We’re excited. I personally have never played Wisconsin, and I’ve been dying to play them. So I think it’s going to be a great match.”
FSU’s season ended 26-6 as the Seminoles were shut down and hit .115.
FSU’s go-to attacker, senior outside Katie Horton, was held to eight kills in 50 swings and hit -.020. Junior right side Natasha Calkins led with 12 kills and junior outside Milica Kubura had 11.
“Obviously, you’re always disappointed whenever you lose at the end. I think this team overcame a lot all year,” Florida State coach Chris Poole said. “I mean, we constantly were having to shift our lineup and make some changes because of different things that were going on during the season that we can’t control. That’s just part of the game. That’s part of being able to step up and figure out a way to keep winning.”
Creighton 3, Michigan 2
The Big East champions opened with a five-set win over Northern Iowa, then knocked out No. 5 Kansas in five on the Jayhawks’ home court, and now are in the round of eight for the first time after coming away with a 24-26, 25-21, 17-25, 25-20, 15-7 victory.
Creighton is 29-6 after winning its 23rd in a row, longest streak in the nation.
Jaali Winters led a balanced Creighton attack with 21 kills in 65 swings. She hit .231 and had 25 digs and four blocks. Junior middle Marysa Wilkinson had 16 kills and hit .386, sophomore Taryn Kloth had 16 kills and senior Lauren Smith 15 and five blocks.
The victory keeps one woman coach in the tournament. Kirsten Bernthal Booth has a chance to become the first woman to take a team into the national semifinals since Mary Wise led Florida to the NCAA Championship in 2003.
Michigan, an at-large from the Big Ten, ended its season 24-11.
Senior outside Kelly Murphy led the Wolverines with 17 kills and 13 digs. Senior right side Abby Cole had 15 kills and junior middle Claire Kieffer-Wright had 13.
Minnesota 3, Missouri 1
The Gophers stayed unbeaten at home (16-0) and improved to 28-4 with their 25-15, 21-25, 25-19, 25-14 victory.
“Very happy to be advancing into the next round of the tournament,” Minnesota coach Hugh McCutcheon said. “I’m proud of our performance tonight.
“Missouri is one heck of a team. They played some wonderful volleyball and I was impressed we were able to make some adjustments throughout the match to be successful at the end. Very happy to be moving on and proud of the team and the effort they put forth.”
His team hit .351, led by Big Ten player of the year Sarah Wilhite’s 16 kills. The senior outside added four digs and two aces. Sisters Hannah and Paige Tapp had 14 kills apiece, Molly Lohman had 11 kills and Alexis Hart 10.
Missouri, which tied for first in the SEC, finished its season 27-6.
Senior outside Carly Kan, who at 5-9 confounded opposing defenses for four years, ended her brilliant career with 20 kills and 10 digs. She leaves with the second most kills in Missouri history, 1,677 and is fourth in digs with 1,445. Junior outside Melanie Crow had 12 kills, seven digs and two solo blocks.
“They did a great job of serving tough, they went after Carly all night long and made things tough for her,” Missouri coach Wayne Kreklow said. “The hard thing with running an offense like this is, if you don’t get a chance to kind of get into a flow it’s hard to do in stop and starts. I felt that they served well enough that prevented us from getting into a rhythm.”
UCLA 3, North Carolina 1
Junior outside Reily Buechler had the match of her career with 19 kills and 24 digs as her Bruins improved to 30-6 with a 23-25, 25-22, 25-23, 28-26 victory. Teammate Claire Felix and Jordan Anderson — who delivered the match-ending kill — had 15 kills apiece.
“The sweet 16 is really hard,” UCLA coach Michael Sealy said. “We knew going in that they were a great team, we knew that they were going to be physical, we knew that they were balanced, and they just played error free volleyball. They put so much pressure on us. Luckily for us we played good defense and kept the ball off the floor, and we were able to persevere.
North Carolina, which won the ACC, ended its season 29-4.
“What a great match,” UNC coach Joe Sagula said.
ACC player of the year Taylor Leath led the Tar Heels with 20 kills, hit .333, and had 16 digs. Julia Scoles added 12 kills and 15 digs.
“It was one of those matches I think could have gone either way,” Sagula said, “but congratulations to UCLA. They played well.”