LINCOLN — Lauren Stivrins felt she had just been cheated out of a kill, and that wasn’t going to do at all.
So when a replay challenge gave Hofstra a point, erasing one of Stivrins’ tallies, she demanded setter Nicklin Hames give her a do-over.
“I actually turned to her,” Stivrins said, “and I said ‘All right, they just took away one of my kills and I want it back. Set me this next ball.’”
The sophomore middle blocker unloaded on her next swing, the most emphatic of her 12 kills in Nebraska’s 25-19, 25-12, 25-16 sweep of Hofstra in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday night.
Stivrins hit .500, added two blocks and an ace, and even helped the Huskers pull out a competitive first set with a defensive display you’d expect from a diminutive defensive specialist, not a 6-foot-4 middle.
“I’ve been talking to Lauren about being a leader, and she leads by her energy, how she plays, how she competes, how hard she works to get up and get the ball,” NU coach John Cook said. “She makes Nicklin feel invincible setting her because Nicklin can miss it, and Lauren can still do something with it.”
After holding off a feisty start from the Colonial Athletic Association champions in the first set, Nebraska (25-6) pulled away with decisive wins in Games 2 and 3 to win its ninth match in a row. The Huskers advanced to Saturday’s 7 p.m. second-round match against Missouri (24-7), which swept Arizona at the Devaney Center on Friday afternoon.
NU hasn’t faced its former Big 12 rival since 2010.
Outside hitters Mikaela Foecke and Lexi Sun each had nine kills, with Foecke tying a career high with six blocks as Nebraska outblocked Hofstra (25-8) 8-2.5.
Hames handed out 30 assists in her postseason debut, setting the Huskers to .352 hitting, NU’s fourth straight match hitting better than .350.
“I think we felt a little extra energy tonight,” Sun said. “I think the fans were excited, and I think we were excited too. It’s fun. I’m excited to get another opportunity tomorrow to play in the tournament here.”
Playing in its first NCAA tournament since losing in Lincoln in 2014, Hofstra showed few early jitters in front 8,358 fans — a total 20 times larger than any crowd to see the Pride play earlier this year. Led by outside hitter Laura Masciullo’s five Game 1 kills, the Pride scored on six of their first eight swings and regularly frustrated Nebraska defenders by firing shots off hands or finding gaps between NU blockers.
The Huskers led 19-14 after Stivrins, playing her one back-row rotation, scrambled for two digs and another touch to keep a rally alive, leading to Nebraska taking the point. But Hofstra pulled within 21-18 before the Huskers took four of the final five rallies, and the set could have gone differently if the Pride hadn’t committed six serving errors in Game 1.
“We knew the team very well. We had a very good game plan. So we were prepared for it,” Masciullo said. “We knew where we could pick on them, and we actually did it.
“I wish we could be more successful, and next time for sure. We’re ready to go back to our gym, work harder, and be ready for the next time.”
Hofstra came back to Earth in Games 2 and 3, mostly because Nebraska’s blockers did too. Stivrins said the Huskers adjusted to playing a smaller team than they’re used to seeing in the Big Ten by not reaching as high so as to not let their arms become targets for deflections.
“With teams that are craftier, like them, we just need to be low and over (the net),” Stivrins said. “So we went back to just being disciplined and being low and over.”
The Pride hit .000 in the second set and .083 in the third to finish the match at .134 and have their nine-match winning streak snapped. Nebraska, which leads the nation in opponent attack percentage, has now held eight of its last 11 opponents below .200.
Cook said besides the blocking adjustments, Nebraska started picking up its serving pressure. Freshman Megan Miller and Foecke each had a pair of aces, and Foecke picked up seven of her kills in Game 3 to finish off the sweep.
“Lauren had a run, Megan had a run, Nicklin had a run, Mikaela had a run,” Cook said. “Almost everyone had a run so we were able to get some momentum and make Hofstra feel pressure.”
Saturday’s second round opponent, Missouri, will be more similar to teams NU has faced for the last two months, Cook said. The Tigers put together one of their best showings of the season against Arizona, hitting a season-best .412 to end the Wildcats’ season. The Tigers’ senior middle blocker, Alyssa Munlyn, had 10 kills on 12 error-free swings to set a new postseason school record hitting .833.
Missouri finished fourth in the SEC this year and owns a win over Florida, which beat the Huskers in the season opener.
“They’re very much like the Big Ten teams,” Cook said. “A physical right side, a very physical left side in (Kylie) DeBerg. I’ve been watching that one middle, Munlyn, for four years. She’s a load. They’ll be a lot more similar to what we’re used to. They played great today.”
Hofstra (25-8)…………………………19 12 16
At Nebraska (25-6)…………………..25 25 25
H (kills-aces-clocks): Masciullo 10-0-1, Skinner 7-0-1, Perez 5-0-0, Rucli 5-0-1, Bogoje 3-0-1, Sydlik 1-0-0, Appleton 0-1-0. Totals 31-1-4.
NU: Stivrins 12-1-3, Foecke 9-2-6, Sun 9-0-1, Sweet 4-0-1, Schwarzenbach 3-0-4, Hames 2-0-0, Davis 1-0-0, Slaughter 1-0-0, Miller 0-2-0. Totals 41-5-15.
Set assists: H 28 (Sydlik 24, Appleton 3, Perez 1), NU 38 (Hames 30, Maloney 4, Foecke 1, Sun 1, Miller 1, Sweet 1). Att.: 8,358
NCAA Tournament: Missouri at Nebraska
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Bob Devaney Sports Center, Lincoln
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM
Creighton utilizes persistence in sweep over scrappy South Dakota, will host Washington next
A fist rose up and a triumphant scream rang out, signaling the start of Creighton’s postpoint celebration. The CU players assumed the ball was surely destined to hit the court on the other side.
Junior Megan Ballenger had to abruptly set her feet, rise up and smack the ball to the opposite corner for a kill — because the scrappy Coyotes had somehow managed to keep the rally alive.
That was the theme all night.
Creighton’s hitters had their patience tested by South Dakota (21-10) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Friday at Sokol Arena. The Jays earned the sweep, 25-14, 25-14, 25-22. But they had to unveil a variety of swing techniques to do it.
“They were covering the floor really well,” senior Taryn Kloth said. “They got a lot of digs. But I think we started to really move it around a lot more, and hit different zones, and mix it up.”
They expected some of that from the Coyotes, who seemed energized in their first-ever NCAA tournament match. South Dakota ended up recording only one block — and No. 9 overall seed Creighton finished with just seven attack errors, two off a season-low.
But the Jays (29-4) indicated afterward that they felt they had to work hard just to get a point.
There was the rally in the second game where two one-handed diving digs from the Coyotes kept the ball in play. A tip from senior Jaali Winters that bounced off two South Dakota players finally clinched that point.
USD successfully played the ball off the net a few times. A couple players crashed into the scorer’s tables. During one sequence in the third game, the Coyotes handled two high-velocity swings from Ballenger and another from Winters, yet still won the rally.
South Dakota’s resiliency almost earned it a fourth game, too. USD pulled within one point on three occasions in the third set before Creighton sealed the match with a 4-2 run.
“The thing about this team is they don’t back off,” South Dakota coach Leanne Williamson said.
But the Jays didn’t let up, either.
They picked up four aces and five blocks in the first game. Kloth had seven kills on seven swings in Set Two, finishing the day with a team-high 16 kills (.696 hitting percentage).
Creighton’s players said they constantly got boosts from their record crowd — the attendance of 2,552 marked the largest in the program’s brief postseason history (this year and last are the only two times CU’s hosted the NCAA tournament).
A chant of “Let’s go Jays” echoed through the arena as Creighton pulled ahead 23-20 in the final set.
“I think this is a stressful situation sometimes, the first match,” coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth said. “I thought we played very calm. That was good to see.”
The Jays will return to action Saturday when they host Washington (19-12) at 7 p.m. at Sokol Arena. The Huskies beat St. Mary’s Friday.
Reserved tickets, priced at $15, are available for Saturday’s match. Fans can visit gocreighton.com/ncaavb or stop by the Creighton ticket office starting at 4:30 p.m. at Sokol Arena.
South Dakota (21-10)………….14 14 22
At Creighton (29-4)…………….25 25 25
USD (kills-aces-blocks): Wilson 12-0-0, Dotseth 11-0-1, Loschen 4-0-0, Gerdes 2-0-0, Wagemester 2-0-0, Susak 1-0-0, Grathoff 0-0-1. Totals 32-0-2.
CU: Kloth 16-2-2, Winters 12-1-2, Ballenger 9-0-3, Hickman 4-0-7, Zumach 4-0-3, Cole 1-1-3. Totals 46-4-20.
Set assists: USD 31 (Jurgens 30, Rasmussen 1), CU 43 (Cole 38, Witt 3, Winters 1, Zumach 1).