LINCOLN — Nebraska took care of the bullfighters, and now they get the Horns.
No. 8 seed NU moved into Saturday night's Lincoln Regional final by sweeping No. 9 seed San Diego 25-20, 25-23, 25-22 Friday at the Devaney Center in front of 8,297.
Senior Kelsey Robinson led all players with 14 kills and Meghan Haggerty added 11 as Nebraska (26-6) ended the Toreros' 17-match winning streak and advanced to Saturday's 8 p.m. regional final against No. 1 Texas with a trip to next weekend's final four in Seattle on the line.
“I know a lot of people wanted to see that match, especially a lot of people in Nebraska,” Robinson said. “So I think we did a great job of taking care of San Diego so we could get there. Obviously our team is excited to get a rematch. We're playing the best volleyball we've played all year.”
Robinson was quiet last weekend with 14 kills in Nebraska's wins against Fairfield and Oregon in the first two rounds of the tournament, but the Big Ten player of the year equaled that number against San Diego (26-4) to help the Huskers hold off a challenge that was closer than a three-game sweep would indicate.
San Diego finished with three more kills than the Huskers in the match, and the Toreros' quick 5-2 offense seemed to have NU's block figured out as the match wore on. However, the Huskers' showed their poise from the service line, and three freshmen put together key serving runs to give Nebraska the edge in each game.
In Game 1, it was Brenna Lyles who served a 7-0 run to put the Huskers up 9-3, a lead NU wouldn't relinquish thanks to eight kills in the first set from Robinson.
Libero Justine Wong-Orantes kept the Toreros out of sorts in Game 2, helping the Huskers to a 5-1 run that proved to be the difference, and in Game 3 Alexa Ethridge came off the bench to fire back-to-back aces to break a 17-17 tie.
“They're the toughest servers in our gym,” Robinson said of the freshmen. “Even when they play us (in practice), you don't ever want to pass them. I'm happy that it finally paid off in a key moment for us. That's just hard work by them all year long.”
San Diego would come to regret uncharacteristic serving and passing woes after the match. Normally a dependable serving club, the Toreros had 10 serving miscues in the match. The breakdowns especially hurt San Diego's chance to even the match in the second set. Five service errors offset the Toreros' 21-12 advantage in kills in the set.
“Our front row and back row worked really hard to get each and every point,” senior libero C'era Oliveira said. “Then, when we go back and serve out, it really puts all that hard work for that one point out the window, and we have to do it all over again.”
Chloe Ferrari led San Diego with 12 kills and hit .385, while Sandra Lozic added 10 kills, but facing a veteran team starting six upperclassmen, it was the Huskers who made fewer mistakes.
Haggerty had one error in 17 swings to hit .588 to complement Robinson's big night and open up the middle for the Huskers' outsides.
“It's really important to get the middles going because as a blocker on the other side, it makes them have to think more to have three powerhouse hitters going all the time,” Haggerty said. “It's really hard to stop.”
Nebraska coach John Cook said his club, which features only Haggerty among its starters who played in last year's regional final in Omaha, is displaying composure like the big stage is nothing new.
“The Big Ten got us through that,” Cook said. “This conference we had to play in this year, in the Big Ten, it prepared us for this tournament.”
Now comes the rematch that everyone had hoped for. Defending national champion Texas bounced back from a slow start to beat American 3-1 in Friday's first regional semifinal to set up the teams' second meeting of the season. The first was a five-set win for the Longhorns in Austin on Sept. 22.
That match let NU know it could stand toe-to-toe with the nation's top teams. Saturday's rematch used to be the de facto Big 12 title game, but a bigger prize awaits the winner of the latest chapter of this old rivalry.
A trip to the final four.
“It's great. They're defending national champs,” Cook said. “I'd rather play them here than in Seattle.”
San Diego (26-3) .............................................. 20 23 22
At Nebraska (25-6) .......................................... 25 25 25
USD (kills-aces-blocks): Ferrari 12-0-2, Lozic 10-1-0, Brown 7-0-2, Hollins 7-0-0, Hoekman 6-0-1, Alvey 2-0-2, Bonomi 1-0-0, Banker 1-0-0, Oliveira 0-1-0.
NU: Robinson 14-0-4, Haggerty 11-0-3, K. Rolfzen 9-0-1, A. Rolfzen 4-0-2, Hall 3-0-3, Pollmiller 1-0-1, Ethridge 1-2-0, Lyles 0-1-0, Wong-Orantes 0-1-0.
Set assists: USD 45 (Bonomi 22, Alvey 19), NU 36 (Pollmiller 29).