Updated Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 08:22 PM
OMAHA, Neb. — It's a straightforward truth: if you want to win in volleyball, you've got to make the ball hit the ground.
The fourth-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers (26-6) dug deep and often, turning away enough Washington attacks to keep the ball in play and end the Huskies' season. Nebraska swept Washington 25-14, 25-21, 25-23 and advances to face Oregon in Saturday's quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
Straightforward isn't the same as simple. All three sets were strikingly different, with just enough drama to keep the red-clad crowd of 8,954 roaring.
The first set was all Nebraska, as the Huskers did almost everything right.
"They served very, very tough," said Washington coach Jim McLaughlin, whose team finished 25-7. "We had (just) one option in almost all cases."
But as the match wore on, Washington found its rhythm, and made a strong run at the end of the second set.
"We were on our blocking assignments," said Washington sophomore hitter Krista Vansant. "And the passing was a little better."
Vansant led all Huskies with 11 kills, and had four block assists.
But pound away as they might, the Huskies could not get past the Huskers' Hannah Werth, who kept rallies alive with 22 digs, many of them off Washington bombs.
"Hannah was awful good," said McLaughlin. "I have never seen her dig like that. She rose to the occasion."
In the final set, the Huskies grabbed several leads as two sophomores, Vansant and Kaleigh Nelson, and three freshmen, Melanie Wade, Katy Beals and Cassie Strickland, controlled passing, blocking and serving.
"Cassie Strickland was a stud," marveled Nebraska coach John Cook, who was also impressed with the play of Huskies' senior Kylin Muñoz. "Kylin was the best right-side blocker I've faced this season."
But with a 17-14 lead in the third, Washington lost composure. The third of three close official's calls went Nebraska's way, and the Huskies' then committed two unforced errors. Strickland served the Huskies to 22-all, and Washington fought off one match point, before losing the set and the match 25-23.
Nebraska, led by 14 kills from Gina Mancuso and nine apiece by Morgan Broekhuis and Werth, outhit the Huskies .233-.130. Washington, which leads the nation in blocking, had a huge advantage, 11-4. But the Huskers out-dug Washington 55-33.
"This season, digs were the area I was most concerned about," said McLaughlin. "And that surfaced."
Munoz had seven kills for UW and Strickland and Nelson added five apiece. The Huskies, normally a strong serving team, recorded just two aces to four for Nebraska.
This was the first time in seven tries that Washington has lost a Sweet 16 match under McLaughlin. And it ties this rivalry at 2-2, dating to Washington's 2005 national championship. Next season, the Final Four will be at Seattle's KeyArena.
"We'll get another chance at this," said McLaughlin. "We're gonna keep knocking on the door. It'll open."
• In the other Omaha Regional match, Oregon defeated BYU 3-1.
• McLaughlin and Cook exchanged angry words after that 2010 match, but there were no further incidents. The coaches met for handshakes before and after the match.
|Washington vs. Nebraska in the NCAA volleyball tournament:|
|2005||Washington, 3-0||Title game|
MATT MILLER / OMAHA WORLD-HERALD
Washington's Kylin Muñoz hits the ball into Gina Mancuso, who blocks it for Nebraska. UW started slowly and never recovered.