The Nebraska volleyball team saw its season end shorter than it has in 18 seasons, while Kansas State advanced as far as it ever has in the NCAA Tournament, as the unseeded Wildcats upset the second-seeded Huskers, 3-2, on Friday night in second-round action in front of 4,161 fans at the NU Coliseum.
Kansas State (22-10) handed Nebraska its first postseason home loss since 2002 and only its third ever with a 25-22, 22-25, 31-29, 22-25, 15-11 victory. With the win, the Wildcats punched their ticket to the Honolulu Regional, advancing to an NCAA Regional for the third time in school history and for the first time since 2003. For the Big Ten champion Huskers, their season ended short of a regional berth for the first time since 1993. Nebraska, which ended its season with a 25-5 record, had advanced to an NCAA Regional in each of the last 17 seasons, the longest active streak in the nation, nine longer than any other school.
In a match highlighted by its closeness, Kansas State ultimately never trailed in the fifth set, as its four-point margin of victory was the largest by either team in the match. The match’s turning point came in the third set, with the match tied at 1-1. After rallying from a five-point deficit midway through the set, the Wildcats fought off three set points and took a 2-1 lead. Nebraska then won the fourth set, but was unable to stop the Wildcats in set five.
Kansas State hit .241 for the match, and the Wildcats saved their best for last, attacking at match-high .357 clip in the final set. Four players tallied double figures in kills, led by Kaitlynn Pelger’s 22 kills on .314 hitting. Lilla Porubek added 17 kills, Courtney Traxson had 14 and Alex Muff added 10. Four K-State players also posted at least 12 digs, including Pelger, who recorded a double-doubled. The Wildcats also out-blocked the Huskers, 13-10.
Nebraska finished with two more kills and a better attacking percentage than K-State, hitting .262 for the match. The Huskers also out-dug the Wildcats, 89-81, but committed 11 service errors. Four Huskers finished with double-figure kills, led by Gina Mancuso, who finished with a career-high 25 kills. Morgan Broekhuis added 14 kills, Hannah Werth chipped in 13 and Jordan Wilberger had 11, one shy of her career high in her final match. Mancuso and Werth added 17 and 18 digs, respectively, to post double-doubles.
Serving led to a 25-22 Kansas State victory in the opening set. Nebraska had four more kills and hit nearly 100 points better than K-State in the set, but the Huskers committed five service errors while the Wildcats recorded a pair of aces. K-State led early, before three straight points gave Nebraska its first lead at 7-6. The Wildcats stormed back to take an 11-8 lead and force a Husker timeout, as Nebraska had committed four service errors and three attack errors to that point. NU won five of the six rallies following the break to regain a one-point advantage, but it would prove to be the Huskers’ last lead. K-State quickly regained an advantage and built a 20-17 lead on back-to-back service aces from Tristan McCarty. Nebraska used three straight points to pull within 23-22, before Kansas State won the next two rallies to take the set.
Set two was a back-and-forth affair late featuring several long rallies. Kansas State was in control for much of the set and led 17-14, before Nebraska made its move. Mancuso finally pulled the Huskers even at 18 with a kill that ended a lengthy rally. After earning its first lead, a Werth ace capped Nebraska’s 5-0 run that put the Huskers in front for good at 20-18. The teams then traded sideouts, before back-to-back points gave Nebraska set point at 24-21. Broekhuis closed out the set with a kill two points later.
Kansas State won the first three rallies of set three before Nebraska responded with a big run. Trailing 6-3, the Huskers withstood two Wildcat timeouts to win 10 of the next 12 rallies and take a 13-8 lead. NU had five kills during the run, while K-State committed four hitting errors, including a pair of Husker blocks. Nebraska maintained the five-point advantage before Kansas State closed to 20-18. K-State then won four of the next five rallies to take a one-point lead, before a Broekhuis kill tied the set at 22. Following a service error, Nebraska won one of the longest rallies of the night to tie the match. Down the stretch, each team squandered three set-point opportunities, before Kansas State converted its fourth set point on a Pelger kill to earn a 31-29 win.
Needing a win, Nebraska jumped out to a 7-2 lead in set four, winning five straight points to force an early timeout by Kansas State. KSU closed to within two at 9-7 after the break, but Nebraska won four of the next five rallies to push the lead back to five. Just as they did in the previous set, the Wildcats chipped away at the five-point lead, cutting it to two for the second time at 17-15 and forcing a Husker timeout. Kansas State continued to comeback after the timeout, winning three straight points to cap a 5-0 run that put the Wildcats on top 18-17. Back-to-back kills by Mancuso ended the run and put Nebraska back in front and the lead changed hands twice more before a Husker block gave Nebraska a two-point lead at 22-20. The Wildcats fought back to within one at 23-22 before Werth delivered back-to-back kills to close out the set.
In the shortened fifth set, Kansas State scored the first two points and never trailed. Nebraska pulled even at 2 and again at 5, before the Wildcats ran three straight points to lead 8-5 at the switch. The teams then traded sideouts to 11-8 before Nebraska used a timeout. The lead grew to 12-8 before Nebraska trimmed the lead to 12-10. But Kansas State won three of the final four rallies, and a Husker attack error sealed the upset.