LINCOLN — Kadie Rolfzen entered the postmatch interview room wearing the somewhat sheepish grin reporters have come to recognize as the wearied look of someone tired of answering whether she is surprised by her success.
Most freshmen aren't expected to dominate a match against last year's national runner-up. Then again, most freshmen aren't Kadie Rolfzen.
Nebraska's freshman phenom outside hitter wore the poise of a veteran and wore out Oregon with 15 kills and a match-high 17 digs to lead the Huskers to a 25-22, 25-19, 25-22 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday. With the victory, NU advances to next Friday's regional semifinal at the Devaney Center against San Diego, which beat Arizona on Saturday in the second round.
Rolfzen played only in the back row in Friday night's win over Fairfield, as NU coach John Cook gave sophomore Kelsey Fien the start at outside hitter in order to develop some postseason depth. Taking her first career postseason swings Saturday, Rolfzen hit .333 and helped the Huskers avenge last year's season-ending loss to the Ducks in the Omaha Regional final.
“We were all excited, I know, for the girls who played here last year,” Rolfzen said. “They were always talking about how Oregon ended our season last year, so we want to do the same with them. Playing Oregon just shows, yeah, we might have a tough second round, but we came out with a sweep. We played great, we played together, and it was a good building block for the next week to come.”
Nebraska (25-6) largely shut down Oregon's fast-paced attack, which featured first-team All-America setter Lauren Plum and the Pac-12's leader in kills, Liz Brenner. The Huskers recorded 13 blocks, with 11 coming in the first two sets, and held the Ducks to a .144 attack percentage.
“I think we would make one error, and we would let that get to us, and it would end up us making another one,” Brenner said. “It kind of spiraled.”
The Huskers' middle blockers, Meghan Haggerty and Cecilia Hall, controlled the net with six blocks apiece, and five NU players had at least two stuffs.
“We had some unfinished business from last year with them,” Haggerty said. “To finally sweep them and come out with the win was a great feeling for everyone on the team last year.”
Oregon (20-12) returned four players who started on last season's national runner-up club, leading both coaches to lament such a high-profile meeting came in the tournament's second round. But the Ducks' stars could do little to stop the momentum the Huskers built in each set.
Brenner led Oregon with 14 kills, but had nine errors to finish with a .116 attack percentage. Middle blocker Ariana Williams, who had 13 kills and hit .500 to torch Nebraska in Omaha a year ago, finished with four kills and was held to .154.
“All week, I told (Kelsey) Robinson and Kadie and Fien they were going to have to be big girls to shut her down,” Cook said, “because you're not going to dig most of her hits, so you better block them.”
Nebraska's middles, both hot-and-cold prospects offensively this season, were welcome weapons in the attack Saturday. Haggerty and Hall combined for 11 kills on 20 total swings to punish the Ducks' decision to block them one-on-one.
“Our pin blockers ran away instead of helped out,” Oregon coach Jim Moore said. “We were talking about how it's been an Achilles heel. Probably our serving and that one piece of our blocking has been our Achilles heel. They just took us apart right there.”
Now, Nebraska moves on to the regional round for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons, awaiting a San Diego club that has won 17 straight matches. No. 1 Texas will join the Huskers in Lincoln and will face unranked American University in the other regional semifinal after the Eagles upset No. 16-seeded Duke on Saturday.
Cook has said this year's team that features 10 new players from a year ago has a way of throwing out surprises. He hasn't always been sure how they would react to the pressure of the Big Ten, and until recently, the postseason.
After Saturday's resounding win, the Huskers might not have many surprises left in them. By now, they simply expect to be great.
“This was a very high-level volleyball match by both teams,” Cook said. “There was some really good volleyball. The whole match was really high level, and there were some great players making great plays on both sides. We just happened to make a few more.”
Oregon (20-12) ................................................ 22 19 22
At Nebraska (25-6) .......................................... 25 25 25
UO (kills-aces-blocks): Brenner 14-1-1, Bettendorf 10-0-0, Finley 7-0-2, Warner 5-0-2, Williams 4-1-1, Plum 1-1-0, Crittenden 1-0-1. Totals 42-3-4.
NU: K. Rolfzen 15-0-2, Robinson 8-1-3, Haggerty 6-0-6, Hall 5-0-6, A. Rolfzen 5-0-3, Pollmiller 5-0-3, Wong-Orantes 1-0-0, Ethridge 0-1-0. Totals 45-2-13.
Set assists: UO 40 (Plum 35, Brenner 2, Finley 1, Benson 1, Ashen 1), NU 42 (Pollmiller 36, A. Rolfzen 3, Wong-Orantes 2, K. Rolfzen 1). A: 8,012.
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