The 10th-seeded Nebraska volleyball team advanced to its 10th straight NCAA Regional Final with a 3-0 sweep of Illinois Thursday night at Texas’ Gregory Gymnasium. The Huskers never trailed in set one but had to come from behind in each of the final two sets en route to posting the 25-12, 25-21, 25-17 win.
After winning the first set easily, Nebraska trailed 12-6 in set two before storming back with an 18-5 run. NU led 24-17 after the run but Illinois fought off four set points before the Huskers finally finished off the set. Nebraska then trailed 13-10 in the third set, but the Huskers won eight of the next nine rallies to take the lead and outscored the Illini 15-4 over the final 19 rallies of the match.
With the win, Nebraska (24-7) advances to face Texas on Saturday in the Regional Final. Illinois ended its season with a 22-12 record, including three losses to the Big Red.
Kayla Caffey and Madi Kubik led Nebraska with 11 kills apiece. Kubik committed only two errors and hit .290, while Caffey had 11 kills on only 19 swings and hit .529. Her 11 kills were a career-high for an NCAA Tournament match, and she also led all players with five blocks. Lindsay Krause, who had kills on seven of her first eight swings, finished with eight kills on .429 hitting and added three blocks. Ally Batenhorst had six kills for the Big Red, while Kenzie Knuckles and Lauren Stivrins each had three service aces. Nicklin Hames dished out 33 assists and added 10 digs for her team-leading 21st double-double, while Keonilei Akana had a match-high 13 digs.
Nebraska hit .260 in the match and had 15 more kills than Illinois (41-26). The Huskers also outblocked the Illini 6-5, outdug Illinois 51-47 and had twice as many services aces (8-4). Nebraska held Illinois to a .088 attack percentage, the Illini’s second-lowest mark of the season. Kennedy Collins led Illinois with eight kills, and Jessica Nunge added seven kills and 10 digs.
Nebraska opened to an early advantage and led 5-1 after a Knuckles ace. Illinois got within one by 7-6 before kills by Kubik and Stivrins bookended a 4-0 Husker run to make it 11-6.
Midway through the set, Stivrins served a 7-0 Husker tear — including two aces — and four Illini errors in that span helped push the NU lead to 18-9. Illinois got no closer than seven the rest of the way, and the Huskers capped the set on a 6-0 run with Knuckles at the service line. A Krause kill finished it off, 25-12.
Nebraska, which never trailed, hit .250 in the set with the help of four kills on five swings for Krause, who added two blocks. NU held Illinois to negative hitting at -.057.
It was Illinois who got the upper hand in set two as NU had five attack errors on its first 13 swings. Three straight Illini kills spotted UI a 12-6 edge before NU took a timeout.
The Huskers came back with a vengeance, putting down five straight kills — three from Caffey and one each from Batenhorst and Krause. With NU threatening at 12-11, Illinois called for a timeout of its own. Hames came out of the break to knot the set on an ace, and Krause and Kubik combined for three consecutive kills to assume NU’s first lead at 15-13.
After back-to-back Kubik kills pushed it to 18-15, a Batenhorst kill and two Illini errors extended it to 21-17. NU kept punching with a five-point spurt — which made the overall run 18-5 — to reach set point at 24-17, but the Illini responded with four straight kills to cut it to 24-21. After an NU timeout, Batenhorst put it away with a kill for the 25-21 win and a two-set lead.
NU hit .263 in the set. Caffey had six kills on 10 swings in the set and hit at .500 clip. Krause, who then had seven kills on her first eight swings of the match, had no errors through the first two sets. Akana accounted for seven of her digs in set two.
Kubik was Hames’ main target in the third set, registering six kills on .312 hitting. Caffey attacked at a 1.000 clip with four kills on four swings and added three blocks.
Nebraska broke out of a 13-10 deficit with a 5-0 run with two kills apiece from Caffey and Kubik and a Knuckles ace, and the Huskers never trailed again. Illinois closed the gap to one at 15-14 but NU won the next three rallies on two kills from Kubik and an ace from Lexi Rodriguez. The Huskers won six of the final seven rallies of the match, closing it out on a kill from Caffey.
Nebraska will face No. 2 seed Texas on Saturday in the NCAA Regional Final. First serve is set for 9 p.m The match will be broadcast on KBBN 95.3 FM with coverage on the Huskers Radio Network beginning at 8:30 p.m.