The Nebraska volleyball team opened the 2012 NCAA Tournament with a dominating performance, never trailing in a straight-set victory over Maryland Eastern Shore (25-14, 25-10, 25-18) on Thursday night in front of a sold-out NU Coliseum.
With the win, Nebraska advances to face Northern Iowa (25-9) on Friday at 7 p.m. in second-round action in the final match at the NU Coliseum. The Panthers advanced to the second round by sweeping 25th-ranked Kansas State (25-18, 25-13, 25-21) in Thursday's other first-round match.
The win improved the Huskers' record to 24-6 on the season, while NU won its first-round NCAA Tournament match for the 29th consecutive season. The Huskers attacked efficiently throughout the match, especially in sets one and two when Nebraska put down 23 kills on only 41 swings with just two errors. With a .512 hitting percentage through two sets, the Huskers were on pace to set a school record for highest hitting percentage in an NCAA Tournament match (.486) before settling for a .455 mark.
Individually, Gina Mancuso had a match-high 12 kills, while Hannah Werth added 11. Together, Nebraska's two primary outside hitters combined for 23 kills on only 38 swings, attacking at a .526 clip. Lauren Cook dished out 34 assists while leading the Huskers to their second-best hitting percentage of the season.
Maryland Eastern Shore, which made its second all-time NCAA Tournament appearance and second straight, ended its season with a 28-6 record, setting a school record for wins. The Hawks did improve on their 2011 NCAA Tournament point total, scoring 42 points against Nebraska after being held to 33 points in a loss at eventual national champion UCLA last season.
Nebraska was sloppy to open the match, committing three early service errors and twice being caught in the net. The errors led to five of Maryland Eastern Shore's first six points, as the Huskers led just 7-6 early in set one. With Nebraska in front 10-9, UMES had its own run of errors, hitting the ball out twice and adding a pair of service errors. The errors helped the Huskers mount a 7-1 run that forced a Hawk timeout with Nebraska on top 17-10. The Huskers cruised from there, ending the set on an 8-2 run following the timeout. Overall, NU won 15 of the final 20 rallies to earn the 25-14 win. Mancuso had four kills in the set, as Nebraska hit .458 while limiting UMES to a .094 attack percentage.
The Huskers carried their momentum over to set two, racing out to a 5-1 lead and forcing an early Maryland Eastern Shore timeout. UMES won the first rally after the break before a pair of Lara Dykstra aces and more strong serving from Morgan Broekhuis contributed to a 9-1 run that gave the Huskers a commanding 14-3 lead. Nebraska led by at least 10 the rest of the way, using a 6-1 run to take a 21-7 lead. Three straight Hawk points trimmed the lead to 11 before a solo block by Allison McNeal sealed the 25-10 win. McNeal helped spark the strong finish with two blocks and a pair of kills off the bench. The Huskers hit .588 in the set, terminating 11 kills on only 17 swings, with just one error.
After totaling only two attack errors through the first two sets combined, Nebraska hit into the net on two of its first seven swings in set three. The errors didn't prohibit the Huskers from jumping out to another quick lead though, as Nebraska led 9-4. A pair of service errors and two more attack errors helped fuel a 6-1 Hawk run that tied the set at 10 and forced a Husker timeout. Maryland Eastern Shore had back-to-back serves to take its first lead of the match, but the Huskers earned a side out each time. The Huskers then strung together a 9-1 run through a pair of UMES timeouts to take a commanding 20-13 advantage. The Hawks stayed with seven points the rest of the way, but Nebraska was too much, closing out the match on a Mancuso kill. The Huskers hit .417 in set three despite the errors, finishing with a match-high 14 kills in the set.