Nebraska punched its ticket to Thursday's semifinal in San Antonio by hitting .300 as a team, the first opponent to hit better than .300 against the Gators this season. While the offense clicked, the Husker defense held Florida to a season-low .084 hitting percentage.
The Huskers (32-1) will face Santa Clara, the winner of the Palo Alto Region Thursday, Dec. 15, at 5 p.m. at the Alamodome. That match will be shown live on ESPNU.
The Huskers have won all 12 games in the 2005 NCAA Tournament and improved to a perfect 4-0 at the Qwest Center this season, with each victory coming via a sweep over a ranked opponent, including three wins over top-five foes. Nebraska has now improved to 12-1 against ranked teams and has five wins over top-five teams.
The Husker Nation came out in full force, topping Friday night's attendance record as Saturday's attendance was the first postseason volleyball match in NCAA history to have more than 15,000 fans in attendance. The 29,608 all-session attendance was also an NCAA record.
The loss snapped Florida's 12-match winning streak and ended the Gators' season at 33-3.
In the early going of game one, Nebraska opened a 5-3 lead before Florida responded with three unanswered points. After a net violation by the Gators that tied the game, Florida ran off three consecutive points to take a 9-6 advantage. Nebraska pulled even at 14-14 and took the lead after a double-stuff block from Tracy Stalls and Sarah Pavan. A Pavan kill extended the Huskers' advantage to 16-14 and capped a 6-1 run for NU, forcing a Gator timeout.
After the break, Florida stormed back to take a 17-16 lead after scoring the next three points. The Gators enjoyed a 21-18 advantage before the Huskers tied it with a 3-0 run capped by a double-stuff block from Melissa Elmer and Houghtelling. Nebraska retook the lead at 23-22 on an Elmer kill, before the Gators tied it on a kill from Kisya Killingsworth. A Gator service error and a Nebraska block gave the Huskers a 25-23 lead, forcing Florida to take its final timeout of the first game. The teams exchanged point until a Florida attacking error gave the Huskers a 28-25 lead. Leading 29-26, Nebraska clinched the first game when Houghtelling and Stalls combined to block UF's Kari Klinkenborg on the Huskers' first game point, one of eight NU blocks in the opener.
Houghtelling led Nebraska with five kills on eight swings in the game, as the Huskers hit just .125. Jane Collymore and Killingsworth led Florida with four kills each, as the Gators were held to a .095 hitting percentage in game one.
Nebraska jumped out to a 7-4 lead in the second game, before the Gators closed the gap to 7-6. The Huskers responded with a 4-1 run to take an 11-7 lead and expanded the advantage to 13-8 before a Florida timeout. At the break, Nebraska had produced nine kills on 11 swings without an error and was hitting .818 in the game. NU scored the first two points after the timeout to cap another 4-1 Husker run. Trailing 15-8, the Gators took the next three points to pull to within four and force a Nebraska timeout.
Florida maintained its momentum after the timeout, scoring six consecutive points to run the Gators' lead to 17-15 before another Nebraska timeout. With Rachel Engel still at the service line for UF, the Gators increased the lead to 18-16 before Elmer ended Florida's 10-0 run with a kill.
Elmer's kill ignited a run of four straight Nebraska points, including a Houghtelling kill that ended the longest rally of the night. With the Huskers leading 19-18, the teams traded points until Nebraska won two straight to take a 23-21 advantage and force Florida to burn its final timeout.
NU took control of the game and pushed its lead to 27-21 with freshman Rachel Schwartz serving six straight points. A kill from Jane Collymore ended the Huskers' run and the squads traded points until Florida pulled to within 28-24. A Houghtelling kill gave the Huskers four consecutive match points and the Cambridge, Neb., native finished the game off with another kill on the next point.
Down two games, Florida responded by taking a quick 3-0 lead in game three, before Nebraska responded with four consecutive points. The game remained close until the Huskers took an 11-8 advantage before a Florida timeout. NU increased the lead to 16-9 before the Gators burned their second timeout.
Nebraska, which hit .567 on 30 swings in the finale continued to pound away at Florida, racing to a 21-10 lead with a 5-1 run after the timeout. The Huskers pushed their lead to 29-16 on an ace serve from Houghtelling for their largest lead of the match. On match point, Elmer and Pavan combined to stuff Collymore, sending send the Huskers to San Antonio.
NU will be seeking its third national title at the Alamodome next weekend. Joining the Huskers in San Antonio are Washington and Tennessee, as well as the winner of the Santa Clara/Arizona match late Saturday night.
Nebraska Quotes Nebraska Head Coach John Cook
"First of all I'm very happy for Melissa (Elmer) and Jen (Saleaumua). They've accomplished everything that they could have in the last four years except this step and winning a national championship, so I'm very happy for those two. To be able to play a regional final today in this atmosphere; what an incredible experience for both teams. I think the play was reflected on a little bit of tension out there. It was an awesome feeling being down there on that court with the crowd into it. It was a great regional final and we're happy we were able to pull it out."
On Nebraska's initial defensive struggle
"At times we can play ugly and still be effective. Both teams were struggling with passing today, and I think it's being in this environment. It just made everyone just a little bit tight. And both teams served very well. But we were able to hang in there through the ugly parts. I think that shows how mentally tough we are. Game one could have gone either way and in game two we made a big run, and I thought that gave us a huge momentum burst going into game three."
On making adjustments
"Once we got to play for a little bit we got a better feel for their tendencies and what they were trying to do. We adjusted really well to that. This team just wears on teams. We're like a Hummer, we're just going to crush everything and plow along. We'll be the last car running. We're not going to drive like a Porsche all the time but we're just going to keep rolling along. This team is hard to play against when you have three hitters coming at you all the time and firepower from everywhere."
On holding the regional in Omaha every year
"The bottom line is that volleyball needs to be where we're selling out arena's like we did tonight. You look at the attendance figures from other regionals and it's a sad statement for the level of support in those communities for regional volleyball. So I think the committee's going to have to take a look at how they're going to continue to grow this. As a coach of Nebraska volleyball I can't tell you how proud I am to see this kind of support. It's a great statement and we have certainly raised the bar for everyone else now."
On taking the lead in game one
"It just takes being disciplined and being aware of everything on the court like where the defense is set up and where you're teammates are. I got some really great sets and I just wanted to get a good swing."
On being the Most Outstanding Player of the regional
"It's a nice award but it was definitely a team effort. Everyone put effort in tonight and everyone deserves it. We're all in this together and we just really came out and executed tonight really well and just had fun."
On Nebraska's confidence
"We had a good week of practice this week and we came in really confident coming off of last night. It seems like we always give up a couple of points at the beginning of every game but about when we hit 20 points we just start to roll. We talked a lot about trust this year and it shows because we stepped up when we needed to."
On the atmosphere at the Qwest Center
"We're basically the only team that gets to see fan support like this every game. With a crowd like this in Omaha, it's awesome. If I were another team coming in I would just think it's amazing. You can't really put it into words until you experience it. I think we played a part in history because you don't see this very often."
On struggling through game one
"Obviously we came out struggling a little bit, but we just always battle. We can't get tentative like we sometimes do and give up three points or more. But I think the whole team's confidence was there. We knew we were going to come out on top."
On her play
"Most of the credit goes to the pass and the set. They do a great job of running the system and I just do what I can to get the kill. That's just what you do. You go out there and play like you can."
On the atmosphere at the Qwest Center
"I think it's great for college volleyball. Nebraska fans are great fans. They applaud all volleyball. For any team to come in and play in front of that is a great experience for them and it's a great opportunity. I'm just glad for the five years I've gotten to be a part of fans like that."
On the impact of Nebraska's defense
"Blocking and digging are definitely things that can wear on a team. They come at you and they get up and it's coming right back at them. It drains them and that's what we're good at. We do it to a lot of teams and you saw at the end that Florida just started to fall apart. It is definitely an advantage we have and something that's been a positive for us all year."
Florida Head Coach Mary Wise
On the game
"We're disappointed that our season ended with a loss, but we lost to a great Nebraska team that played well. I think to win a national championship, you have to have a player that's a player-of-the-year candidate. Sarah Pavan is that, but I think Christina Houghtelling is of that caliber as well. Nebraska is a team that doesn't let you make mistakes. They force you to play almost a perfect game. I'm proud of how our team competed, but the bottom line is that our team wasn't good enough."
On Nebraska's Christina Houghtelling
"She gave us fits on the front row and with her serve."
On Nebraska's transition game
"Nebraska was good in transition. They were really good going from defense to offense."
On the Omaha Regional
"We were part of history. There were 15,119 people here today. That does a lot for our sport. It was a challenge to play in this environment, but Nebraska's players won the game. The fans made it a great atmosphere. I think that our sport needs to take small steps, but thanks to Omaha, the University of Nebraska and the state of Nebraska, our sport took a huge step this weekend."
"If history says anything, the last three teams to beat us in the NCAA Tournament have gone on to win the national championship."
On Florida's seniors
"These seniors were a part of a lot of wins here."
On Nebraska's multiple weapons
"In game one, we were right in it, Nebraska had eight blocks. I feel that blocks are a key to a team's success. I thought coming in that we couldn't let Jordan Larson or Jennifer Saleaumua hit over .300. We did a good job with that, but if you stop one player, how do you stop the others? It takes a great team performing well to beat Nebraska."
On Nebraska's success at the end of the game
"Well-coached teams make adjustments and Nebraska's staff made good adjustments to what was working for us in game one. Give more credit to Nebraska and their execution than us losing momentum."
On Omaha as a volleyball venue
"I would love to come back. This state loves volleyball, and you sense that whether in the arena or in the airport. The four teams that play here (next year, for the national semifinals and finals) will have a special experience."
Outside Hitter Jane Collymore
On Nebraska's defense
"They had a good defensive match. That's what kept them going in the match."
On the atmosphere
"The atmosphere and the energy the crowd creates make your energy level go up."
On this season
"This team has grown together from the start of the year to the finish. I'm so proud of my teammates."
Setter Rachel Engel
On Florida's chances as the game wore along
"The whole match, we felt like we were in it. We know that they are hard to stop."