KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Penn State is still the queen of college volleyball with seven national championships, but right now they can’t stop Nebraska.
The Huskers have now won seven straight matches against Penn State. Penn State’s last three losses over the past two seasons have come against Nebraska.
Thursday, the Huskers rallied to beat Penn State 25-18, 23-25, 24-26, 28-26, 15-11 in the national semifinals at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
Nebraska will play for the national title on Saturday night.
Mikaela Foecke led the Huskers with 19 kills, and Brian Holman and Annika Albrecht finished with 13 kills apiece.
The third set is the one that could have cost the Huskers the match, as Nebraska let a 21-17 lead slip away as Penn State won nine of the final 12 rallies to take the set and a 2-1 match lead.
Over the second half of the match Penn State began to win some of the long rallies, get kills on out-of-system plays and force Nebraska’s hitters into hitting errors when they started pressing.
In the fifth set, Penn State got the early 6-4 lead. But the Huskers had a run in them. Kenzie Maloney served a 5-0 run as the Huskers took a 9-6 lead.
Penn State won the next two points, but Nebraska answered with a 3-0 run for a 12-8 lead. Albrecht had a kill for a 13-9 lead, Foecke a kill for a 14-10 lead. After a NU serving error, Kelly Hunter scored on a tip to seal the match.
The first 16 rallies of the match were thrilling back-and-forth action, setting the tone for the rest of the night.
Penn State went on a 3-0 run for an 11-8 lead early in the first set.
Nebraska regained the lead with a 9-1 run where the Huskers claimed a 17-12 lead. Kenzie Maloney served five consecutive points in the run. The first big moment came a few rallies later. Briana Holman drilled back an overpass for a 15-12 lead. The Huskers’ serving had got to Penn State. The pro-Nebraska crowd roared its approval.
It got better on the next rally. The Huskers blocked Simone Lee for the first time. That was the end of a 9-1 run where Nebraska had not only reclaimed the lead, but taken control of the first set. Maloney served a 3-0 run to end the set, a Nebraska 25-18 win to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
Holman came up big for the Huskers in the first set with five kills on six attempts and no errors.
In the second set Penn State got out to a 4-0 lead. NU slowly chipped into its deficit. The Huskers had three straight blocks to take its first lead of the set at 20-18.
But Penn State got two quick kills, and Nebraska only had one kill the rest of the set. Penn State overcame two serving errors near the end of the set, but still won 25-23 to tie the match. Penn State blocked Holman on its first set point.
In the third set, Penn State rushed out to a 10-4 lead. Maloney's serving did it again, this time heading a 5-0 run that knocked off the bulk of the Nittany Lions’ lead. Foecke dropped a shot in the back corner of the court after a long rally to give the Huskers a 14-13 lead.
The Huskers extended their lead to 21-17, but Penn State didn’t let up, and dominated the end of the set, winning nine of the final 12 points to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
In the fourth set Penn State took leads of 6-1 and 10-5, but again, Nebraska rallied, winning 15 of the next 21 rallies for a 20-16 lead.
That included seldom used serving sub Hunter Atherton serving back-to-back aces along with a couple of kills each from Sweet and Foecke
That set up the big finish. Penn State got the deficit to two and then one and then took a 26-25 lead with a stuff block on Albrecht. That gave them match point.
Penn State's setter got tripped up on the next rally and couldn’t get off a clean set. Nebraska won the next three points to reclaim the momentum of the match and set up their victory in the final set.