No. 7 Huskers Top Fourth-Ranked USC, 3-1

8/31/2008

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OMAHA, Neb. - Behind a match-high 18 kills from All-American Jordan Larson and a strong defensive performance, seventh-ranked Nebraska downed No. 4 USC, 3-1 (25-27, 25-19, 25-17, 25-18) in front of a crowd of 8,399 at Qwest Center Omaha Sunday afternoon.

The Huskers, who improved to 2-0 on the season with wins over two of the top four teams in the country, needed a strong effort from Larson, who slammed 18 kills on 36 swings and added eight digs and three service aces in the victory.

While Larson was the only Husker to reach double figures in kills, NU relied on a balanced attack that saw four players total at least seven kills against the Women of Troy. The middle blocking duo of Kori Cooper (nine kills and six blocks) and Amanda Gates (seven kills, six blocks and two service aces) combined for 16 kills while Tara Mueller added seven kills and three blocks. Sydney Anderson keyed the Husker attack, dishing out 41 assists, while also chipping in five of the Huskers' 11 service aces on the day

The story for the Huskers was its defensive efforts, as Nebraska held USC to just .141 hitting, while out-blocking (12.5-9.0) and out-digging (53-49) a Women of Troy squad that reached the national semifinals in 2007. Kayla Banwarth recorded a match-high 20 digs for the Big Red, while Lindsey Lich totaled eight blocks and added six kills in helping the Huskers to just their second victory - and first in the regular season - in eight meetings with USC.

Larson, Banwarth and Anderson were all selected to the Runza/AVCA Showcase All-Tournament team after helping the Big 12 to a 3-1 record over the two days. No. 3 Texas dropped a five-set match to No. 2 Stanford earlier Sunday to prevent a clean sweep for the league.

Alex Jupiter led USC with a team-high 12 kills, while Jessica Gysin added 11 in a losing effort. Jupiter joined the three Huskers on the all-tournament team, joining Stanford's Cynthia Barboza and Cassidy Lichtman and Texas' Destinee Hooker and Ashley Engle.

In the opener, the Huskers were unable to close out the set, as USC fought off four set points to prevail, 27-25. Cooper totaled a team-best four kills, and the Huskers used a key 6-2 spurt off the serving of Gates to turn a 19-18 deficit into a 24-21 lead. Two straight USC kills and a block evened the set before Cooper's kill gave NU a 25-24 lead. The Huskers were unable to close out the game, as two miscues, including a block by USC's Taylor Carico and Lauren Williams put the Women of Troy at set point before Geena Urango's perfectly placed roll shot ended game one.

The Huskers would put defensive clamps on in game two, holding USC to .125 hitting in rolling to a 25-19 lead. Anderson keyed Nebraska's efforts, totaling 12 assists and three service aces, including the final two points of the set to send the match tied at the intermission. USC took an early 8-5 lead, only to see the Huskers storm back with a 5-1 spurt, taking the lead at 10-9 on an Anderson ace. The teams traded points and USC was within 16-15 before the Huskers took control with a 7-1 run, taking a 22-16 cushion after two straight USC hitting miscues. The Women of Troy made one last run, pulling to within 22-19 before a Gates kill and two straight aces closed out the set.

Nebraska upped its lead to 2-1 with its strongest offensive effort of the match, hitting .333 en route to a 25-17 victory. Larson totaled six kills on nine swings, while Gates added three big kills for Nebraska, which never trailed. The Huskers used strong serving to race out to a 6-1 lead after Anderson's fourth ace of the match. USC fought back and was within 10-8 before the Huskers scored five of the next six points to extend the margin to 15-9 and force USC to take a timeout. USC fought to within 15-12, but a Larson kill and a Banwarth ace sandwiched around a USC miscue quickly pushed the lead to eight and put the set out of reach.

In the finale, Nebraska's block was solid in helping NU post a 25-18 victory for its second win in as many matches. Licht totaled three stuffs in limiting USC to .065 hitting in the finale. The Huskers led from wire to wire, using a decisive 8-2 spurt, turning a one-point lead into a 12-5 advantage after an Anderson kill. USC fought back and was within 16-12, but could get no closer, as Nebraska scored the next four points, highlighted by a Gates' ace to make it 20-12 and essentially end USC's comeback bid.

Press Conference Quotes
Nebraska Coach John Cook

Opening Statement

"It's one heck of a win for this team, and I give all the credit to our work ethic preparing for this tournament all summer and then our three seniors. I think they somehow have gotten this team to play hard for each other with a lot of heart and that's what you're seeing. If you can't enjoy this volleyball, then it's time to find another sport."

On Nebraska's run in the second game

"Well that was a defining moment for our team today because we had to respond to losing a game. The first time you do that it's a whole new feeling, but they showed great composure, and I thought they upped it a notch. I thought we eliminated some errors we were making and we had way too many errors in the first game - still should have won it. But that was a great response to come back and I think that took a little bit away from USC."

On today's win compared to Friday's win over Stanford
"Anytime you can beat Stanford and USC back-to-back, it's a great weekend. That doesn't happen very often. I'm not sure how many people in the volleyball world gave Nebraska a chance to win this tournament. That's what I keep coming back to. Somewhere these kids have formed a bond or relationship that they're playing great as a team."

On Nebraska's offense

"We're still not hitting on all eight cylinders if you're driving a V-8, but I think you started seeing glimpses of it. Jordan (Larson) appearing in different places, the tempo we're trying to go at, obviously attacking behind the setter was really good today. Those are things that take time. Amanda Gates and Sydney Anderson have been playing together for three weeks. They were running that at a very high level tonight. Again, there must be an incredible comfort level and trust there that's going on between those guys."

On Nebraska's younger players

"This is a big tournament, big crowd, and I thought they performed very well for two back-to-back matches. Now, they've taken a step to show that they can play with the best and beat the best. Can they do it over the next three-and-a-half months? That's the question. That's what separates good players from great players. So we won't be patting them on the back too much if you're worried about that."

Nebraska's Jordan Larson
On Nebraska's confidence after beating Stanford and USC
"It gives us a lot of confidence obviously, but we still have a long season to go. This is great for us because no one really expected it from us. I think it's a great start, but still again we have a long road to go, and we still need to stay focused on what we have ahead. Every match from here on out is going to be tough because now they know what's coming at them."

On Nebraska's comfort level

"I think it all started back in January. We've had the core team training all spring and all summer long. We'd get in there at 6 a.m. and that takes a lot of dedication. People could have gone home, but they were committed and I think that showed a lot to everybody. I think on the court everybody knows their role and they know what positions they have to take and they're not trying to do too much as well. I think that's a huge thing. When I was younger, I would get in that big setting and try and perform at such a high level that you try to do too much. I think they all know ‘hey, this is my ability, and I'm going to bring it and do it to the best of my ability and not try over-hard.'"

Nebraska's Kayla Banwarth

On Nebraska's defense

"Well, Coach said it. If we want to do great we have to be the best passing team and the best serving team in the country. I think we've embraced that challenge and we work on that every day in practice and we understand that's what we have to do to be great. We really work on that."

"We definitely started tough, which took our opponents out of their rhythm, which really worked for us. In turn, we passed the ball great and let our hitters run their sets. It's really about helping each other. If you can pass the ball great for your setter, she's going to be able to make a great set for your hitter. It's doing it for each other."

USC Coach Mick Haley

Opening Statement

Obviously, we're disappointed we lost both matches coming here. But where we are in our development of our young kids, we have 12 first- and second-year kids and four juniors and no seniors. We knew going into the season that we would have some leadership issues and some learning issues. Basically, I like my team, and I thought the first game and a half today we played very well, good intensity. Nebraska wore us down with their intensity, and we'll have to tell Coach Cook that that's a nice job by the Nebraska team. They kept bringing it and bringing it, and we could not sustain under that kind of pressure. Good for us to be in these situations. I thought we maybe even did a little bit better against Texas. If we'd been a little more confident we might have gotten them when they weren't playing so well. They played much better today also. Good opening tournament, but bad for us to have two losses because our schedule is so hard and our conference is so tough. A lot of the Pac-10 teams try to not get up too early because you die in the middle of our season. The second round when we play each other, they know what time you're going to go shave, what time you're going to the bathroom. They know everything about you by the time you get to the second round in this conference. It's really quite a grind for the players. The other hand is that we need to be tough enough and strong enough to handle this if we're thinking about coming back in December. That is not out of the question for us. If we meet this challenge and go after it, I think we'll be in the hunt. The conference will either do us in or make us so tough that we'll get a shot to come back here.


On Nebraska's floor defense

Their scramble plays are better. They get more balls up, they run more balls down and they get more touches. That's encouraging. I thought all three of our opponents, or the two we played-even Stanford, ran more balls down than they have in the past. If this is a tendency, then collegiate volleyball is really on the upswing. That's been one the problems with the collegiate game, you haven't been able to put in enough time to get enough touches. The athleticism was doing it. People were running off the floor like the Cubans and bringing balls back in a spacious area. That was pretty fun to watch. I thought Nebraska made a lot of good efforts tonight and if they can sustain that, I think that will certainly help. That gives them a chance to be back here at the end of the year. We all have to get better at this point. I think John's made some improvements there.

On the unknown factor of Nebraska

I haven't played Nebraska since Louisville (2004) and you pretty much know what Nebraska's going to do. They run two plays in each rotation and they try to execute them. It's the old Green Bay Packers with (Jim) Taylor up the middle and (Paul) Hornung outside, and they dare you to stop it. I like that, there's nothing wrong with that because your players usually get pretty disciplined. But on a given night, it's like Indiana High School basketball, you can get them if you're at the top of your game and their not. Usually where that breaks down is the passing. What you need to look for is how you're going to pass at the end of the season. That's their style and I like that style. I think what John does is good. Obviously, look at the record the last eight years and you can't argue with that. They mismatched on us a little bit and we're so young that we didn't know what to do to take care of that. Now it becomes a little coaching game of getting the match-ups right. Match-ups may start to become more a factor in the collegiate game and that would be pretty exciting.

USC's Taylor Carico
On finding a rhythm early in the season
Basically it's coming to these preseason tournaments that is going to give us experience and playing against excellent competition. I mean, practice is good for preparation and everything, but your opponent changes every time. Texas and Nebraska were great opponents to play right before we go into the Pac-10 season.

Article courtesy of Nebraska athletics.

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