With its tree mascot twirling in the background, No. 1 Stanford towered over No. 4 BYU, moving back to the national final with a 25-15, 25-15, 25-18 victory Thursday.
The Cardinal, the nation’s top blocking team, put up 17 blocks at the Target Center, with middle Tami Alade, the NCAA’s leading individual blocker, getting 14 stuffs.
Junior outside hitter Kathryn Plummer, the reigning NCAA player of the year, had 12 kills to lead Stanford, which avenged its only loss of the season. Opposite hitter Audrianna Fitzmorris added 11 kills and nine blocks.
Stanford (33-1) will take a 31-match winning streak into Saturday night’s championship versus Nebraska.
The Cardinal defense handcuffed BYU’s leading attacker, Roni Jones-Perry, who averaged 4.88 kills per set coming into the match. She finished with eight kills and 12 errors on 35 attempts. The Cougars (31-2) finished with three more errors (32) than kills (29), hitting a season-low minus-.026.
Stanford will seek its record eighth national championship Saturday night. The Cardinal and Penn State are tied for the most volleyball titles with seven each.
BYU (31-2)................15 15 18
Stanford (33-1).........25 25 25
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1. Nicklin Hames
Setter • 5-10 • Freshman Knoxville, Tennessee
The heir apparent to Kelly Hunter could become NU’s first freshman setter to start full time in a one-setter offense. Hames’ energy and chatter in practice are already notable, and she’s the unquestioned leader of the freshmen. Hames won five Tennessee state titles in high school and was the country’s top-ranked setter in the Class of 2018, according to PrepVolleyball.com
2. Mikaela Foecke
Outside hitter • 6-3 • Senior West Point, Iowa
With a healthy senior season, Foecke could end her career in the top five on Nebraska’s career kills list. She hasn’t been named a first-team All-American yet, but for team accolades, she’s already surpassed many NU greats as one of a handful of Huskers to have two NCAA championship rings. In both of Nebraska’s title runs, Foecke has been named the final four’s Most Outstanding Player.
3. Megan Miller
Def. specialist • 5-6 • Freshman Alexandria, Indiana
Miller has the quickness to make a difference right away in the back row. This summer she was one of the rare freshmen to break 2,000 points in NU’s performance index testing. She played for one of the country’s top clubs, Munciana, which won the 2017 AAU U18 national title.
4. Sami Slaughter
Outside hitter • 6-1 • Sophomore Harrisburg, South Dakota
Noticeably stronger than a year ago, Slaughter may have the chance to grab some more playing time if Texas transfer Lexi Sun is limited while recovering from an injury. Slaughter played in six matches as a freshman with a season-high four kills against Rutgers.
5. Anezka Szabo
Opposite hitter • 6-3 • Sophomore Sioux Falls, South Dakota
One of the Huskers’ two lefties, Szabo played on the right side last season backing up Jazz Sweet and is training at middle blocker in preseason workouts. She is considered one of NU’s best blockers, earning the nickname the “Block-Nesh Monster” from teammates, and Cook said her improvement has been a highlight of fall practices.
6. Chen Abramovich
Def. specialist • 5-6 • Freshman Kfar Saba, Israel
Abramovich is one of NU’s two international players and led her high school to the Israeli high school championship. She played with Israel’s Junior National Team at the 2016 European Championships.
7. Mari Kurkova
Setter • 5-10 • Junior Opava, Czech Republic
Kurkova (first named pronounced MAR-ee) was Nebraska’s top option to add depth at setter after Hunter Atherton transferred, and NU stuck with her through a long process to confirm her NCAA eligibility. She arrived in Lincoln the week before preseason practices started, but the Huskers hope the former captain of the Czech Republic junior national team will be a quick study.
8. Brooke Smith
Setter/DS • 5-10 • Senior Weatherford, Texas
Smith was a serving specialist and reserve back-row player during her first stint on NU’s 2015 NCAA title team before leaving for Kansas State. During her year in Manhattan, she helped set a 6-2 offense. Her return gives the Huskers another tough server, a third setting option, and, Cook hopes, a positive veteran influence.
9. Capri Davis
Outside hitter • 6-1 • Freshman Mansfield, Texas
Davis is another player who could see the court early if Sun isn’t full strength at the start of the season. She’s already earned praise from teammates for her work in the weight room. Davis had more than 1,300 kills in high school, and PrepVolleyball ranked her the nation’s No. 21 recruit.
10. Lexi Sun
Outside hitter • 6-2 • Sophomore Encinitas, California
Sun’s departure from Texas, where she was All-Big 12 as a freshman last year, and choice to transfer to Nebraska was one of the biggest stories in college volleyball’s offseason. She picked NU banking on the program’s history of developing all-around outside hitters. The Huskers are banking on her eventually joining Foecke to form one of the country’s top 1-2 punches on the left side.
11. Kenzie Maloney
Libero • 5-8 • Senior Louisville, Kentucky
High-jumping, big-swinging attackers draw the eyeballs in volleyball, but Nebraska’s made three straight final fours by being one of the country’s best defensive and ball-handling teams. Maloney’s skill in those areas landed her on the preseason All-Big Ten team. Perhaps the Huskers’ best pure athlete, she served a school-record 13 aces in last year’s NCAA tournament.
12. Jazz Sweet
Opposite hitter • 6-3 • Sophomore Tecumseh, Kansas
It’s a sign of the faith Cook has in Sweet that he challenged her to become a six-rotation player this season. She had double-digit kills in 11 matches during her freshman season and finished on a high note in the NCAA tournament with 11 kills in the regional final versus Kentucky and 12 against Penn State in the final four.
25. Callie Schwarzenbach
Middle blocker • 6-5 • Freshman Kearney, Missouri
At 6-foot-5, the freshman is already the tallest Husker. She could use a year in NU’s conditioning program to add some strength, but the summer transfer of Chesney McClellan pretty much ruled out that she would would redshirt this fall. The country’s No. 10 recruit will get a chance to show what she can do — either as a starter or top reserve — right away.
26. Lauren Stivrins
Middle blocker • 6-4 • Sophomore Scottsdale, Arizona
By the end of her first year as a starter last season, Stivrins was taking some of Nebraska’s most-pivotal swings. She put down the ball that sent NU to a fifth set against Penn State in the final four and had nine blocks in the match. Stivrins exudes an on-court presence that tells opponents they’re lucky there’s a net separating her from them. That’s an edge that can earn NU an extra point or so per set.
43. Hayley Densberger
Def. specialist • 5-9 • Sophomore Malcolm, Nebraska
The lone native Nebraskan on this year’s roster, Densberger will try to solidify a role as a serving and defensive specialist. She’ll need to cut down on service errors to grab that role this season — she had at least one in five of NU’s six NCAA tournament matches last year. Densberger was mentioned by teammates as being one of the team’s hardest-working players in summer conditioning.