LINCOLN — John Cook almost called time out.
The Husker volleyball coach not only wanted to script the final play that was run in the NU Coliseum, but wanted to squeeze a few extra seconds out of the night. It turned out his daughter had the same thing in mind.
When Lauren Cook set Gina Mancuso for the final kill of the night, Nebraska wrapped up a perfectly scripted Coliseum finale, beating Northern Iowa 25-21, 25-16, 25-21 in the second round of the NCAA tournament Friday night.
The Huskers advanced to the regional semifinal next Friday at the CenturyLink Center. It will be the 29th time in 32 NCAA tournament appearances that Nebraska has gone past the second round.
“What a great match to finish the Coliseum,” John Cook said. “Our crowd was electric, the kids were a little too pumped up in Game 1 because of the crowd, but what a way to send the Coliseum out. I think it was fitting the last point was Lauren setting Gina for the final kill in the Coliseum. Two Nebraska girls: How fitting that was.”
Lauren Cook directed a balanced attack that got all the Huskers' weapons involved. Morgan Broekhuis led all players with 10 kills on 16 error-free swings while Mancuso and Hannah Werth each had nine kills and junior middle blocker Hayley Thramer added seven.
The Huskers (25-6) hit .371, the fourth time in five matches they have hit better than .350, and did it against a Panther team that had held opponents to a .175 attack percentage this season.
John Cook admitted his team had focused its preparation this week on a potential rematch with Kansas State after the Wildcats knocked NU out of last year's tournament. The Huskers' ragged start Friday made it seem like that choice might end up costing them.
Nebraska committed two net violations, two hitting errors and two service errors to fall behind 9-5 in Game 1. Northern Iowa led 15-12, but Nebraska found its legs in time to go on an 8-2 run to lead 20-17.
The Panthers schemed to take away the Huskers' top two weapons and sent a double-block at Werth and Mancuso. The senior outsides hit .059 in the opener, but that opened up space for the Husker middles. Thramer and freshman Meghan Haggerty each had four kills in Game 1.
“Meghan was one-on-one all night. Hayley was one-on-one all night,” John Cook said. “Lauren did a great job of seeing that, and we made them pay.”
Haggerty also provided a surprise weapon the Panthers likely didn't anticipate. She served four of the Huskers' five aces in the match after recording two career aces before Friday.
“I've been just going into practice and really focusing. Kind of putting myself in a game situation, it really helped and transferred on the court,” said Haggerty, who began serving regularly only in the second half of the season.
Nebraska was nearly flawless in Game 2, hitting .607 with 17 kills and no errors. The Huskers were in control after a 6-1 run gave them a 12-6 lead.
Game 3 held a bit more drama, with the Panthers pulling within 16-15 on a kill by Amy Braun. But a kill by Broekhuis and back-to-back kills by Werth put NU up 19-15, and the Huskers never led by less than three points again.
After putting up a .321 hitting mark Thursday against Kansas State, Northern Iowa (25-10) hit .191 Friday, with no player reaching double figures in kills.
“They're really big, so anytime you go up against a really big team, they're going to get a couple more touches on you, soft blocks, than maybe a K-State would,” UNI setter Molly Turk said. “They don't leave as big of seams and holes for our hitters to execute. That leaves the set location even more important, so if I don't give them a good set, it's near impossible to score on a team like Nebraska.”
Nebraska effectively bottled up middle blocker Krista DeGeest, who had hurt Kansas State with 11 kills on a .588 attacking clip Thursday. DeGeest had five kills and hit .231 against the Huskers.
NU will find out Saturday night who it will face in Omaha. The Huskers play the winner of the Seattle Regional. Hawaii beat Santa Clara to advance to Saturday's second round and will play Washington, which swept Central Arkansas.
“This gives us a couple days now to recover a little bit, because everybody's fatigued this time of year, and really have a great week of preparation,” John Cook said. “It feels good to have a break here. We've been giving them two days off the last two weeks of the Big Ten, and I think it really paid dividends for us.”
After the match, the Huskers huddled on the court before senior Paige Hubl led the team on a final victory lap around the Coliseum, slapping hands with much of the crowd of 4,184 that showed up to say goodbye to the building that has been the Huskers' home since 1975.
Another chapter of unfinished business awaits Nebraska in Omaha as the team seeks its first Final Four berth since 2008. But, with a second-round sweep exorcising the demons of last year's early exit on their home floor, the Huskers agreed that they couldn't have finished this part of the script any better.
“It's special,” Lauren Cook said. “That's the last game I'll play in the Coliseum. That's the last game we'll all play in the Coliseum in the regular season or postseason. Just to end on a sweep, I feel like that's Nebraska volleyball right there. It's a good feeling to end like that.”
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