MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — No matter how good Mikaela Foecke is, a little luck doesn’t hurt.
The Nebraska senior ripped her 19th kill to cap the defending champion Cornhuskers’ rally for a 22-25, 16-25, 25-23, 25-20, 15-11 victory over Illinois on Thursday night in the NCAA volleyball semifinals.
The Cornhuskers (29-6) will go for their sixth title Saturday night against Stanford (33-1), which swept BYU in the other semifinal.
Nebraska led 12-11 in the fifth game when a Foecke kill was ruled out of bounds. However, Nebraska challenged and the call was reversed after officials went to the video monitor and determined an Illinois blocker had gotten a finger on the ball.
“I definitely did not think I had a touch,” Foecke said. “If it wasn’t for (teammate) Lauren (Stivrins), I probably would have told coach, ‘Don’t challenge it.’ She convinced me, had my back. Won the challenge, so. …”
The Cornhuskers then went up 14-11 on an Illinois error before Foecke, the 2015 and 2017 Most Outstanding Player when Nebraska won championships, closed it out.
Lexi Sun had 19 kills and 12 digs for the Huskers, who have won 13 straight since losing at home to Illinois in late October. In that match, Nebraska hit a season low .099 and had a season-high 30 hitting errors. They had 22 errors but hit .251 for the match, .375 in the deciding game.
“It was pretty obvious we were struggling early,” Nebraska’s Kenzie Maloney said. “We kind of just said we need a new team to come out in the third set. We all just dug down deep and genuinely believed we could do that, turn the match around. I don’t know, we just played with a lot of heart. It really came together for us in the third set, from then on.”
Since their last loss, Nebraska held seven of 12 opponents to less than .200 hitting. Illinois hit .237 but was at .200 and .156 in games three and four.
Second-year Illini coach Chris Tamas expected Nebraska to come back, after all, he was on the Cornhusker staff two years ago.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” he said. “You don’t make it to four straight Final Fours by chance. They had one of the best outside hitters in the country with Mikaela. We knew they were going to ride her. We knew they’re not going down without a fight.”
Jacqueline Quade had 28 kills for the Illini (32-4), who had won 17 straight. Morgan O’Briend had 27 digs.
“I would say coming out really strong the first two sets as a team is something you always really like to see,” Quade said. “They definitely took a hit back at us in the third and fourth. Props to them for that. I think we managed it pretty well. We were still doing really good things throughout the match. Just really came down to that fifth set, and they got us in that.”