No. 1 Stanford (33-1) completely dominated in its semifinal win against No. 4 BYU (31-2). No. 7 Nebraska was down 0-2 and came back to win 15-11 in the final set, winning the final four points to beat No. 3 Illinois.
The games couldn’t have been any different — and they were each terrific in their own way. Before the Cardinal and the Huskers meet in the national championship on Saturday at the Target Center, here are three immediate takeaways from the semifinal matches.
1. That Stanford block
It cannot be understated how much Stanford took over the game with its block. Entering as the nation’s block per set leader, the Cardinal showed up and took it right to BYU with an astounding 17 blocks in a three-set match. That was at least the most in a three-set NCAA semifinal match since Texas had 15 in 2009.
When Tami Alade — the nation’s individual blocks per set leader — reached the podium at the post game press conference, she said under her breath “Let’s look at that block.” After seeing the 17.0 written on the sheet next to team total blocks, her eyes widened a bit and said, “Dang.”
Alade registered a ridiculous team-high 14 blocks. She and right-side hitter Audriana Fitzmorris totally shut down national player of the year candidate Roni Perry-Jones, holding her to -.114 hitting percentage. That pretty much ended BYU’s championship hopes.
2. Nebraska makes you earn it
The Huskers weren’t just down 0-2 — they were really shut down in that second set, losing 25-16 and hitting .129. Nebraska then responded by hitting .298 in the third set with a match-high 18 kills in the set.
Seniors Kenzie Maloney and Mikaela Foecke made just about any play the Huskers needed down the stretch. But when Foecke (19 kills) wasn’t getting the swings she needed, Lexi Sun (19 kills) absolutely delivered in the most crucial moments. She hit only .196 for the match, but had nine kills in the final two sets with three errors.
Nebraska served very tough in that final set, which prevented Illinois setter Jordyn Poulter from being able to distribute the ball like she can with great passes. Even when there was a tough hit over, the Huskers had several moments throughout the match when the ball just wouldn’t go down. They totally flipped a switch after that second set to advance to Saturday’s final.
3. The Nebraska block must be better
The Huskers led the Big Ten in team blocks per set and had just four blocks against Illinois. Nebraska lived to fight another day, but going against that Stanford team that has two players at 6-foot-6 and another at 6-foot-4 in the front row, the block has to be better.
Illinois’ Jacqueline Quade is an elite player and she took apart Nebraska’s defense for 28 kills, including some in huge moments. Now Nebraska has to figure out how to slow down Kathryn Plummer, who might have sealed her second AVCA player of the year award with 12 kills against BYU while hitting .300.