LINCOLN — Mikaela Foecke had her fastball working, Anni Albrecht showed off her full repertoire, and together Nebraska’s outside hitters delivered enough big blows Friday to give the Huskers a statement nonconference win.
Both players had double-doubles and combined for 25 kills in No. 12 Nebraska’s 25-15, 25-21, 25-20 win over No. 11 UCLA in the Devaney Center in the opener of a marquee two-match series.
Foecke, the hard-hitting junior from West Point, Iowa, brought the heat on many of her match-high 13 kills. But it was the variety of shots from Albrecht that kept the Bruins off balance during her finest performance of the season.
Albrecht admitted there have been discouraging moments in the season’s first two weekends when she hit .085 as she transitioned into a six-rotation player after spending her first three seasons as a defensive specialist. But the senior from North Aurora, Illinois, did little wrong Friday with a season-high 12 kills on .400 hitting using an unpredictable blend of angles and velocity on her shots.
“When you come to a school like this, you always have a dream of something,” Albrecht said. “In the past years, we’ve had great players. Even this year we still have great players in this spot. They’ve got my back and it helps me play so much better when you have great teammates.
Foecke said Albrecht’s performance “just shows how hard she works in practice and how hard she’s worked the past three years to get this full, all-around position she’s earned this year.”
“She definitely deserves it,” Foecke added, “and I think it’s really exciting. It’s a great opportunity for her and for our team.”
Playing a full match for the first time this season with senior setter Kelly Hunter, who has been recovering from a preseason injury, Nebraska (4-2) seized control of each set by the midway point. The latest juncture at which UCLA (5-1) led in any set was 14-13 in Game 2. Even that came in the middle of an 8-0 run that featured four Foecke kills, the last of which was a vicious cross-court strike that put the Huskers up 19-14.
“You know what you’re going to get with Mikaela,” NU coach John Cook said. “She’s a fastball pitcher. Here it comes 100 miles an hour — hit it. Anni’s the change-up, curve, slider, knuckleball. She’s going to give you everything.”
The Bruins had little answer for any of it. Albrecht went over and around UCLA’s block with tips, roll shots and pinpoint placements deep in the backcourt, in addition to showing off a lively arm when connecting in system on quick-tempo sets from Hunter, who had 44 assists.
“I think Kelly knows how to set Anni,” Cook said, “so I think Anni has a lot more confidence and knows where the ball is going to be, so that allows her to be a little more confident, drive, and do different things.
“Kelly made some really nice adjustments the end of Game 1, and all the way through Games 2 and 3 she started making some really great decisions. We didn’t always connect, but she was getting her hitters one on one. “
The Huskers’ self-assurance usually manifests in defensive energy as well. Friday was no exception. Nebraska picked up 62 digs in the sweep — 15 each from Albrecht and libero Kenzie Maloney — and hassled the Bruins into 20 hitting errors despite just five NU blocks.
Freshman outside hitter Mac May led UCLA with nine kills, but she committed eight errors. That was a microcosm of the Bruins’ offense, which despite doing a fair job handing Nebraska’s serving, hit .097.
“Our block and defense was pretty good tonight,” Cook said. “We didn’t block a lot of balls, but we touched a lot of balls and got a lot of really easy balls off those touches.”
With the teams set to square off again at 7 p.m. Saturday, Cook joked that Friday’s postgame felt like halftime of a football game. Cook said he already had an idea of some things to tighten up on the Huskers’ side, likely in an attack that hit .230 thanks to 10 UCLA blocks.
The Bruins, too, will have a checklist of adjustments to make overnight. Near the top of the list may be Albrecht, whose offensive potential isn’t much of a secret any more.
“They’re going to change some things, so we’re going to change some things and just be ready to play a brand new team,” Albrecht said. “Who knows what they’re going to do out there? So we’ve just got to be ready to adjust, come out there and be ready to play harder than we did tonight.”
UCLA (5-1) …………….. 15 21 20
At Nebraska (4-2) ……. 25 25 25
UCLA (Kills-Aces-Blocks): May 9-0-4, Mosser 8-0-0, Gates 7-0-7, Buechler 5-0-2, Rogers 3-0-0, Sponcil 0-0-1
NU: Foecke 13-1-1, Albrecht 12-0-0, Sweet 9-0-3, Stivrins 8-0-0, Holman 5-0-4, Hunter 1-0-0
Set Assists: UCLA 32 (Sponcil 28, Rogers 2, Muno 2), NU 47 (Hunter 44, Foecke 2, Atherton 1) Attendance: 8,297