Nebraska proves again to be the volleyball state

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Is there anything Mikaela Foecke can’t do?
From a tryout with Team USA Volleyball in April, to graduation from UNL in May, her wedding on June 1 with a honeymoon spent as the star attraction at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the former All-American now just needs to take a deep breath.
And while she shared center stage with former volleyball Husker greats Jordan Larson and Kelsey Robinson in matches against Korea, Germany and Brazil in what is the FIVB Volleyball Nations League, Mikaela, not surprisingly, was a fan favorite.
USA coach Karch Kiraly’s latest group of 14 players was more or less an experiment, the eventual goal being next summer’s Olympics in Japan. But here and now, the group that came to Lincoln featured an amazing nine players from the all powerful Big Ten Conference.
They certainly didn’t disappoint.
And while the vault wasn’t close to a sellout, the fans who came appreciated the high caliber volleyball. Throw in a lot of music and a lot of fun up on the big screens and you have three days of entertaining volleyball.
The entire squad consists of 25 players, with 14 roster spots guaranteed in a few months when things start to heat up. Whether or not all three former Nebraska players make the final cut remains to be seen, but right now things look pretty good.
The only downer was the final match against Brazil, a team that sported just a 5-3 tournament record. The Brazilians smacked USA in the mouth and took a 2-0 lead in sets, but Foecke came off the bench in the third (after playing both nights prior) to lead a surge. Eventually though, the Americans lost 3-1 for their only loss in Lincoln.
The international game is of course similar to what we normally watch. Hey, it’s still volleyball. But it is different, too. The head coach usually stands just off the court, just a few feet away from the players. And it seems like there is an endless supply of replay reviews on the big screen. Also, popular music is played between each and every point, and there are set cheers for kills, ace serves and blocks.
But no roof, roof, roof!
Cindy and I did see two yellow cards handed out in the match against Brazil. The first was when USA libero and former Penn State Nittany Lion Megan Courtney got one from the up official because she was trying to alert him to the fact that Robinson was tying her shoe and wasn’t ready to receive the serve. Again, I’m not sure who is and who isn’t allowed to talk to the refs.
And one of the big hitters from Brazil got her yellow card in set number three when she kept gesturing to the referee about a call made against her team. She deserved one, too. She had been complaining quite a bit up to that point.
Team USA now travels to China, Russia and then back to China July 3-7 for the final round, the winning squad coming away with $1 million. USA is now 7-2 and is the defending champion.
Two other quick observations: Wisconsin middle blocker Dana Rettke showed she can compete against top level competition and will be a handful for the Huskers the next two seasons. Also, Nebraska coach John Cook posed for pictures for at least a half hour straight with young girls prior to Thursday’s final match. He certainly was very gracious and accommodated each and every youngster.
The bottom line is, the big crowds all three nights and for the second year in a row once again showed just how popular the sport of volleyball is in this state, and that didn’t go unnoticed to Karaly, who hinted that Team USA might make just consider a return trip in 2020, one that would occur just a few weeks before the Olympics.
Count me in.
DAVE BRADLEY can be reached at advertising@hamilton.net.

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