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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — With the largest crowd in NCAA volleyball tournament history fueling them, the Nebraska Cornhuskers moved within a win of a national championship.
The 17,551 fans at CenturyLink Center, all but a few dressed in red, were out in force Thursday night as the Huskers beat Kansas in four sets 50 miles from their Lincoln campus. Most of those folks surely will be back Saturday when fourth-seeded Nebraska faces former Big 12 rival and No. 3 Texas in the title match.
"Coming out there in front of 17,000 people on your home court, that's just crazy," Cecilia Hall said. "Having that support makes it so much fun. You get a point, the whole crowd is with you."
Kadie Rolfzen had 14 kills to lead a balanced attack for Nebraska (31-4), which will take a 15-match winning streak into the final. The Huskers will be playing for their fourth national championship and first since 2006.
Nebraska beat a Kansas team much better than the ones it used to dominate in the Big Eight and Big 12. This was the first time the teams had met since 2010, the year before the Huskers joined the Big Ten, and they improved to 87-0-1 in the series.
Mikaela Foecke had 12 kills, Hall added 10 and Kelsey Fien nine for Nebraska, which won 25-20, 25-21, 20-25, 25-16.
All-American Kelsie Payne led the Jayhawks (30-3) with 22 kills, and Taylor Soucie and Ainise Havili had eight kills apiece.
"Twenty-two kills, three errors on 33 swings, and she hit .576. Everyone knew we were going to her," Kansas coach Ray Bechard said. "That performance was as good as any we saw in either match tonight."
The Huskers faced a lot more resistance than they did in the old days against Kansas. The upstart Jayhawks knocked off No. 1 Southern California in a five-set regional final last week to reach the semifinals for the first time. Nebraska was only the second team to beat them this season. Texas was the other, defeating them twice.
Nebraska got out to a 2-0 lead in sets, but the Jayhawks controlled the third with Madison Rigdon and Janae Hall joining Payne in the attack and the Huskers hitting just .078.
The Huskers regained the momentum in the fourth set after KU All-America setter Ainise Havili served long, starting a 10-4 Nebraska spurt featuring a couple big swings by Foecke. Kansas got within 18-16 before Nebraska, with Kelly Hunter serving, rattled off seven straight points to end the match.
"Kelly makes a run and we got the crowd into it, so it was a really nice way for us to finish that match," Nebraska coach John Cook said. "All of a sudden we just started playing really well. We played some flawless volleyball from that point on."
The Jayhawks ended the best season in program history having lost only to Texas (twice) and Nebraska this season.
"I couldn't be more proud to be represented with this group," Bechard said. "I guess we can say the three losses we had are to the teams that are playing for the national championship."
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