Stanford and Nebraska Advance to NCAA Finals

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | Dec. 13, 2018, 11:55 p.m. (ET)

2018 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship semifinals in Minneapolis
2018 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship semifinals in Minneapolis

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 13, 2018) – Stanford and Nebraska have locked in their positions into the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship finals after semifinal victories over BYU and Illinois, respectively, on Thursday in front of 17,808 fans in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Stanford, which was playing in its 22nd semifinals, will be attempting to win its eight NCAA women’s volleyball title in its 16th title match, an all-time NCAA record. Nebraska will be aiming for its sixth NCAA title, and its senior class of Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney will be aiming for their third NCAA title. The Husker pair have a 21-1 record in their four years playing the NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA Championship match will be on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN2.

#1 Stanford (33-1) def. #4 BYU (31-2)

Stanford, the top seed in the tournament, swept fourth-seeded BYU 25-15, 25-15, 25-18 in the first semifinal. In the process, Stanford avenged its only loss of the year, which was a five-set loss at BYU in its third match of the season. The Cardinal are now on a school-record 31-match win streak.

Audriana Fitzmorris led Stanford with 11 kills on 24 attacks and nine block assists for 15.5 points. She was part of the 2013 FIVB U20 World Championship silver-medal team and followed with gold at the Global Challenge in 2015 and 2018 with the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team and the U.S. Collegiate National Team-Europe, respectively. Kathyrn Plummer, the only player to win a medal in a World Championship event in both indoor and beach volleyball age-group competition chipped in 12 kills on 30 swings, an ace and two block assists for 14 points. Defensively, Morgan Hentz was all over the court registering 20 digs. Tami Alade notched 14 blocks (one block solo, 13 block assists) to go with one kill.

Stanford setter Jenna Gray set the Cardinal to a .281 hitting efficiency with 26 assists. Offensively, she added three kills on six errorless swings, two aces and three blocks. Holly Campbell contributed four kills and three block assists, while Megan McClure provided three kills and two block assists.

The Cardinal defense limited the Cougars to a negative .026 hitting efficiency as BYU committed 32 attack errors. Stanford combined to have 17 team blocks for which Alade was a part of 14 of those blocks.

BYU was led by Roni Jones-Perry’s eight kills and dig digs, but she committed 12 attack errors in the match. Heather Gneiting totaled six kills and Madi Robinson added five kills. Lynd Haddock-Eppich paced the Cougar defense with 10 digs, while Mary Lake had seven digs.

Stanford opened the first set with a 4-1 lead, but BYU answered with an 8-1 run to establish a 9-5 advantage. Stanford came back to take a 22-13 lead with a 17-4 run. The Cardinal finished the set with a 25-15 victory, highlighted by seven team blocks and two aces from Gray. The Cougars hit negative .132 for the set with 12 attack errors.

In the second set, Stanford inched out to an 8-4 lead only to have BYU level the score at 9-all with two key aces from Danelle Stetler. The Cardinal responded with a 10-2 run to stake a 19-11 lead, then cruised to the 25-15 victory. Stanford hit .276 in the second set and held BYU to a negative .081 efficiency.

BYU grabbed an early 7-4 lead in the third set, but the Cardinal charged back to square the set at 9-all. The Cougars scored three unanswered points to take a 12-9 lead, only to see the lead evaporate on a Cardinal 3-0 run at 12-all. Alade blocked Jones-Perry in the longest rally of the set to give Stanford a 14-13 advantage and the Cardinal extended the gap to 18-13 on a 9-1 run. Stanford claimed the set at 25-18.

#7 Nebraska (29-6) def. #3 Illinois (32-4)

Nebraska rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Illinois 22-25, 16-25, 25-23, 25-20, 15-11 in the second semifinal. The Big Ten rivals split a par of conference matches this year with both teams winning in four sets on the road.

Nebraska, the defending NCAA champions, has played in four consecutive NCAA semifinals. Foecke and Maloney have already won two NCAA titles in 2015 and 2017.

Foecke scored a team-high 19 kills on 50 attacks, adding two aces and two block assists. She reached a double-double with 11 digs and added four assists. Foecke has come up through the USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline, including a silver-medal at the 2013 FIVB Girls’ U18 World Championship.

Lexi Sun contributed 19 kills on 56 attacks, two aces and a block assist. She also had a double-double with 12 digs. She helped Team USA win silver at the 2015 FIVB Girls’ U18 World Championship after playing in the 2013 FIVB Women’s U23 World Championship at age 15. Maloney placed a double-double on the stat sheet with 20 digs and 10 assists while adding an ace.

Jazz Sweet punched down nine kills for Nebraska, while Lauren Stivrins pocketed eight kills on 16 errorless attacks. Nicklin Hames, the first Husker freshman starting setter, added pocketed 46 assists, 19 digs and five kills while leading Nebraska to a .251 hitting efficiency. Hames also helped the U.S. to an eighth-place finish at the 2017 FIVB Girls’ U18 World Championship. Nebraska’s Calli Schwarzenbach and Capri Davis had five and four kills each. Schwazenbach had three blocks assists as well.

Illinois was paced by Jacqueline Quade’s 30.5 points that included 28 kills on 76 swings, two aces and a block assist. She added 10 digs for a double-double. Beth Prince contributed 10 kills on 35 swings and three block assists. Megan Cooney tacked on seven kills and two block assists.

Jordyn Poulter, who played with the U.S. Women’s National Team this past summer and helping the Americans to gold at the Pan American Cup, set Illinois to a .237 hitting efficiency and added four aces, three block assists and two kills. She had a double-double with 14 digs. Ashlyn Fleming and Ali Bastianelli each scored six kills and four block assists for the Illini, while Bastianelli added a block solo. Morgan O’Brien had a match-high 27 digs and Taylor Kuper added 14 digs.

Illinois held a 9.5-4.0 team block advantage and a 9-7 margin in aces.

As a side note, Olympians Kayla Banwarth and Jen Tamas were on the benches on opposites sides. Banwarth, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, is an assistant coach for the Huskers. Tamas, a silver medalist at the 2008 Olympic Games, is a volunteer assistant for Illinois. Chris Tamas is the head coach for Illinois, and assistant coach Alfie Reft both spent time on the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Nebraska started the first set with a 4-1 run, but Illinois rallied to tie the set at 7-all. The Huskers built a three-point cushion at 14-11 following a Sun ace, though Illinois charged back to take its first lead at 16-15. Nebraska called a timeout trailing 18-16 and came out of the break with four quick points to reverse the advantage to the Huskers at 20-18. The Illini stopped the run to level the set at 20-all, then regained the advantage at 22-21. Consecutive Husker errors yielded three Illini set points at 24-21, then captured the set at 25-22. The Illini hit .269 in the opening set and Quade produced nine kills. The Huskers hit .255 in the opening frame and Sun led the way with six kills.

Illinois jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the second set, including two Poulter aces. The Illini extended their lead to 12-4. The Huskers cut their deficit in half at 13-9, only to have Illinois answer with three straight points to up the advantage to 16-9. Nebraska clawed back to within four at 19-15, but couldn’t get any closer as Illinois closed out the set on a 6-1 run for a 25-16 victory. Quade added six kills in the set and her team hit .241 in the second set. The Illini held the Huskers to a .129 hitting efficiency in the set.

Nebraska picked up a two-point cushion in the third set at 5-3, but Illinois tied the set at 5-all. Sun served an ace to give Nebraska a 13-9 lead as part of a 4-0 run. After the Illini closed to one at 14-13, Nebraska rolled off four consecutive points to take an 18-13 lead. Illinois battled back to tie the set at 21-all, then went in front 23-22. Nebraska answered with the final three points, including the last two from Foecke to win the set 25-23.

Nebraska built a 9-6 lead in the fourth set, but Illini found itself back in a tie at 9-all following an O’Brien ace. Illinois took the lead back at 13-12 on a Prince kill. The lead reversed to Nebraska at 15-14 on consecutive Illinois errors. Megan Miller served an ace to lift the Huskers to a 17-15 advantage, but Quade tied the set again at 17-all. Illinois called timeout trailing 20-18 after a Sun kill, then committed an error out of the break to lift the gap to three points. Fleming slammed a kill to slice the Illinois deficit to 21-20. Hames served an ace after an Illinois service error to raise Nebraska’s lead to 23-20. Jazz Sweet hit cross court to yield for Husker set points at 24-20, then Sun finished it at 25-20 to force a fifth set. While Nebraska hit only .206 in the fourth set, the Huskers limited Illinois to just a .156 hitting efficiency in the frame.

Illinois took a 7-6 lead in the fifth set, its first lead since scoring the first point of the tiebreaker. The advantage was short-lived as Sun reversed the lead to the Huskers at 8-7 following a kill. After the court side switch, Foecke downed a back-row kill to give Nebraska a two-point cushion at 9-7. Fleming served an ace for Illinois to level the set at 10-all. Foecke hit a kill thanks to a video challenge reversal and Maloney followed with an ace to give Nebraska a 14-11 advantage. Foecke ended the set with a kill at 15-11.