LINCOLN — Tinkering with the lineup, and the slightly askew environment of playing at home in the NCAA tournament, didn't stop the Nebraska volleyball team from taking care of another first-round formality Friday night.
The eighth-seeded Huskers, who had 10 players seeing their first NCAA postseason action in an NU uniform, quickly found their footing to defeat Fairfield 25-15, 25-9, 25-17 at the Devaney Center.
That victory improved Nebraska (24-6) to 26-1 all time in the first round of the tournament and sets up a second-round match with Oregon, the team that knocked the Huskers out of last year's tournament in the Omaha Regional final.
NU coach John Cook shuffled the starting lineup against the Stags. Sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Fien earned her first postseason start, replacing All-Big Ten freshman Kadie Rolfzen, who played only in the back row Friday. Fien, from Bakersfield, Calif., responded with a team-high eight kills against one error to hit .467.
“Fien has had a really, really good two weeks of practice, so I wanted to see what she could do,” Cook said. “Playing back to back, we're going to need some depth if we get in two five-game matches back to back. I want Fien ready to feel like she's comfortable coming in, and I want three middles feeling like they're comfortable coming in.”
Fien said she received word from Cook late Friday afternoon that she would start. She had started the Huskers' first three matches this year when Rolfzen was out with a shoulder injury.
“Honestly, I was ready for it,” Fien said. “I felt like we've been practicing pretty strongly, and I'm glad he felt comfortable just putting me in and trusting me.”
True freshman Melanie Keil started for the third time in four matches, finishing with five kills and a team-high five blocks to help Nebraska dominate the net. Kelsey Robinson and Cecilia Hall each added four stuffs to help the Huskers outblock Fairfield 11-0 and hold the Stags to a .000 attack percentage.
Cook noted the Devaney Center crowd of 7,920 exceeded the total number of fans Fairfield has played in front of all season. After the match, as has become the norm for Nebraska's first-round opponents, the starry-eyed Stags gushed about the environment.
“I heard a lot about the Nebraska crowd. I thought 'There's a lot of people. It's going to be overwhelming,' ” said Fairfield setter Rachel Romansky. “But I'm from Colorado, so it was cool having so many people be nice and so many people saying 'Good luck. You got it. Good work.' It was awesome coming from the East Coast.”
The Huskers turned the match into the rout that was expected, but were slow out of the gate against Fairfield (19-13), which ran a tempo slower than NU sees from Big Ten opponents. Cook took an early timeout to regroup after Fairfield went up 8-6 in Game 1, and NU responded with an 11-3 run to take control of the opener. That would be the only danger the Stags would pose all night.
“It's a different team than what we've been playing in the Big Ten, so it took us awhile to adjust a little bit and get through some nerves, but once we adjusted I thought we did a nice job,” Cook said.
Hall and Amber Rolfzen each had seven kills and combined to hit .481. Setter Mary Pollmiller dished out 31 set assists and helped NU hit .392.
The match tempo and opponent skill will take a drastic step up Saturday when the Huskers play at 7 p.m. against Oregon (20-11), which won its sixth straight match by sweeping Miami in Friday's first match.
With Fien and Keil in the lineup, the Huskers featured six new starters from the team that fell to Oregon 3-1 at the CenturyLink Center last year. Even so, Saturday's matchup with the Ducks carries extra meaning for the Huskers, Fien said.
“I still get fired up about it because I was part of the team last year, and I felt all the same emotions as all the girls who did play in the game last year,” she said. “They took us out of the tournament, so I feel like this is revenge for some of us.”
Fairfield (19-13) ............. 15 9 17
At Nebraska (24-6) ........ 25 25 25
F (kills-aces-blocks): 10-0-0, Moyer 4-0-0, FitzPatrick 3-0-0, Orr 3-0-0, Stapleton 3-0-0, Romansky 2-0-0, Coffey 0-1-0.
NU: Fien 8-0-0, A. Rolfzen 7-0-3, Hall 7-0-4, Robinson 6-1-4, Keil 5-0-5, Haggerty 4-0-2, Pollmiller 1-0-3, Broekhuis 1-0-0, Wong-Orantes 0-2-0, Ethridge 0-1-0, Lyles 0-1-0.
Set assists: F 25 (Romansky 22), NU 34 (Pollmiller 31). A: 7,920.