By Lincoln Arneal
Louisville, KY. Nebraska won’t be playing in the regional finals for the first time in more than a decade.
The Huskers’ streak of 10 straight Elite Eight appearances ended on Thursday with a five-set loss to Oregon. The last time NU didn’t make a regional final came in 2011 when it lost to Kansas State in the second round.
It’s only the fourth time in John Cook’s 23 seasons at Nebraska that the Huskers have missed a regional final.
Even though the season ended earlier than usual, Cook said they should be proud of the season. The Huskers’ six losses were to all Top 10 ranked teams, and they battled many forms of adversity this year.
“All year long, they show up every match. They didn’t take any matches off and you see all the upsets in college volleyball now,” Cook said. “That’s a reflection of our training, our program, our culture, how we approach each match and season. So to do it 10 straight years, I think, is something to be proud of because it just shows the consistency and the high level of play that we’re after.”
WIN THE CROWD — With the sweep over Baylor on Thursday, Louisville moved to one match from a return trip to the Final Four. Advancing to the national semifinals would mean a little more this year for Cardinals coach Dani Busboom Kelly with the tournament ending at the CHI Health Center Arena in Omaha.
The former Nebraska player and assistant coach hopes to win over fans now that the Huskers have been eliminated.
“I feel like I need to represent now that Nebraska got knocked out,” Busboom Kelly said. “I would hope that Nebraska fans would be cheering for us if we happen to make it.”
OPPOSITE SWITCH — Late in the first set, Oregon subbed in junior opposite Morgan Lewis for Gloria Mutiri. When she left the match, Mutiri had just one kill and one error on nine attacks.
After amassing four kills in her first two full sets, Lewis went off for eight kills in the fourth. She finished with a season-high 13 kills for just her second match this year with double-digit kills.
While Mutiri is more consistent, Oregon coach Matt Ulmer said they needed more scoring.
“Morgan is just a little more terminal than Gloria,” he said. “I thought (setter) Hannah (Pukis) did a nice job of going to her. It took her a little time to get that trust back – they haven’t played a ton together. I thought Morgan just made some huge plays for us, and that was really important, to spread the floor, because it was just really left-side dominant early, so to be able to get that separation was important.”
SPREAD IT OUT — Even when the crowd filled in for the Louisville-Baylor match, the attendance at the two regional semifinals was 5,002 at the KFC Yum! Center.
After all the work that the Big Ten did to feature the sport this season from the first-ever volleyball media days to regularly televised matches, Cook said he was disappointed with the start time and logistics around the Sweet Sixteen. He said his preferred method is to spread the regional matches over four days and all play in the evening.
“The NCAA needs to do a better job promoting volleyball,” Cook said.
CAREER MARKS — After breaking the Nebraska school record earlier this season, senior setter Nicklin Hames finished her career with 5,084 assists, 260 more than Fiona Nepo.
The fifth-year senior also finished third in career digs at 1,587, passing Jennifer Saleaumua during the second-round match against Kansas, and is 10th all-time with 128 aces.
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik finished 13th in school history with 1,264 kills. She barely missed out on becoming the fourth player with 1,000 kills and digs. She finished with 983 career digs.
Kubik also had nine kills in the match and finished her career in 13th place on Nebraska’s all-time kills list (1,264).