Huskers

“It’s just us and we are together and we go into this thing together,” coach John Cook said of the Huskers playing the rest of their matches on the road. “I’ve just seen our team bond really tightly when we go on these regionals on the road.

LINCOLN — The Devaney Center went silent.

Missouri, which led the match 1-0, just served an ace for a third straight point to cut its deficit to 18-17 in the second set.

Nebraska junior outside Lexi Sun was sprawled on the court after colliding with libero Kenzie Knuckles. The 8,091 held their breath as Sun gingerly walked off the court.

Freshman Riley Zuhn, who had one kill the past three months, checked in. With the pressure mounting to stymie the Tigers’ momentum, Jazz Sweet stepped forward and delivered a kill.

Missouri countered with a kill, then Sun checked back in and the crowd came back to life. Though she didn’t record a kill down the stretch, Sun’s return rejuvenated the Huskers — and the crowd — as they won six of the final eight points of the set. NU survived a marathon third set before finishing off the Tigers on Saturday night.

Sweet said winning that next point was crucial, as well as their trust in whoever was on the court.

“We were going to pull together as a team and do it for her,” the junior outside hitter said. “We all got together, pulled Riley into what was going on and she went out there and she killed it. We all held each other up until Lexi was back into the game.”

The win secured the Huskers’ eighth straight trip to the Sweet 16 and 25th in 26 years. The next challenge for the fifth-seeded Huskers is a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, for a regional semifinal matchup with No. 12 Hawaii, which defeated San Diego early Sunday morning.

The other semifinal features No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 13 Texas A&M, with the first serve set for at 1 p.m. Friday. The Huskers and Rainbow Wahine are scheduled to play at 4:30 p.m. NU’s match will not be televised but streamed on ESPN3.

The Madison Regional was one of two where all four seeded teams advanced. In the Waco Regional, top seed Baylor will face Purdue while No. 9 Kentucky will meet No. 8 Washington.

Louisville coach Dani Busboom-Kelly, a former Nebraska player and assistant, saw her Cardinals upset Western Kentucky, handing the Hilltoppers their second loss of the year. Louisville was rewarded with a trip to Austin and a match against No. 2 Texas. They will be joined by No. 10 Florida and No. 7 Minnesota. The Gators were the only team in the region to sweep their second-round match as the other teams need five sets.

The biggest upset in the first weekend came from Cincinnati, which beat No. 6 Pittsburgh. Jordan Thompson’s 27 kills helped the Bearcats prevail in five and end the Panthers’ season with their second loss of the year. Cincinnati will take on No. 11 Penn State. No. 3 Stanford won all six sets during the weekend and will host Utah. The Utes knocked off in-state rival BYU, the No. 14 seed, in straight sets.

Though the Huskers will go on the road the rest of the way, coach John Cook said they can use it to their advantage by eliminating distractions.

During the past four trips to the Final Four, the Huskers have won regionals on the road: at Minneapolis last year and Kentucky in 2015 and 2017.

“It’s just us and we are together and we go into this thing together,” Cook said. “I’ve just seen our team bond really tightly when we go on these regionals on the road.

“I’m excited to keep playing and coaching. I love coming in the gym with these guys.”

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