Pioneers Provide Drama But Fall To Second Seeded Nebraska In First Round Of NCAA Tournament
Lincoln, NE - The Sacred Heart women's volleyball team hung with the national powerhouse Huskers but in the end fell to Nebraska 3-0 Thursday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Elise Sage (Greenwood Village, CO) led the Pioneers with a .588 hitting percentage, notching ten kills. Freshman Christina Bauch (Trabuco Canyon, CA) recorded a match high 12 kills. The Cornhuskers swung at a .429 clip and tallied 12 blocks en route to the victory.
Sacred Heart (29-7) took the lead in the early moments, winning the first point on a NU error, and going up 2-1 on a Bauch kill. The Huskers then put together a 6-1 run before a Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) ended the streak. Mercado, the NEC Rookie of the Year, supplied SHU with six kills and four digs.
"I thought it was a real strong match and we competed very, very hard," said head coach Rob Machan. "I'm proud of the effort the girls put out there. For our first time in the tournament and against a top team in the nation, I'm proud of the effort they gave today."
Nebraska (28-2) stayed hot and forced Machan to call timeouts with the Pioneers trailing 10-5 and 17-6. Ashlyn Trimble (Temecula, CA) hammered home a kill to make it 21-9 but the junior suffered a knee injury on the play and would be unable to return. Jessica Colberg (Long Beach, CA) made two incredible digs in the rally to contribute to her team high 12. Sacred Heart fought off two set points but ultimately fell 25-12 in the opening frame.
The Pioneers played the Cornhuskers tight from wire to wire in the second set. Sacred Heart rattled off three straight points, the final on a Mercado kill, to cut an early deficit to 7-5. Johanna Ovsenek (London, Ontario) and Bauch combined on a block to pull SHU within one at 9-8. Nebraska tried several times to shake the Pioneers with a run but each time Sacred Heart responded with a surge of its own. Consecutive kills from Sage and Bauch again put the Pioneers within one, cutting the NU advantage to 14-13.
Sacred Heart made a move late in the set as a Megan Pulone (Diamond Bar, CA) dropped in a service ace to make it a 21-20 affair, still in favor of the Huskers. But two points later a Bauch kill evened the set at 22-22 and forced Nebraska head coach John Cook to call a timeout.
"Sacred Heart certainly got our respect with the way they played," commented Cook. "They competed really hard. I think they really represented themselves well here in front of the Coliseum."
After the intermission Mercado's serve hit the top of the tape, but fell millimeters shy of finding its way over, resulting in an error. Nebraska took advantage of the fortunate break and won the next two points to put away a dramatic second set, 25-22.
Senior captain Courtney Kidd-Kadlubek (Santa Barbara, CA), the NEC Player and Setter of the Year, posted 26 assists and nine digs in the final game of her collegiate career. "I think this environment is amazing," said Kidd-Kadlubek. "The whole traveling here and playing a top ranked team with amazing hitters was a lot of fun. It's been the greatest experience I could ask for."
Nebraska surged out to a 5-0 cushion in the third set, with the first point coming on an Ovsenek kill. The Huskers went up big, extended the gap to 10-1. The Pioneers would regain its composure to win three straight points and force a Husker timeout at 12-6. Nebraska's service came dominated the remainder of the match as they put away Sacred Heart 25-11 in the final set.
Sacred Heart ends the season with a school record 29 wins and turned some heads in their first appearance at the NCAA Tournament. The Pioneers graduate only one starter as they look forward to greater success in the upcoming years.
"The girls greatly enjoyed the experience but are excited to get back into the gym and continue working for better results in the future," said Machan.