The outcome was no longer in doubt.
But it didn’t stop Nebraska setter Kelly Hunter from throwing dirt on the coffin.
She went up for a set only to push the ball deep to zone 5, Florida players diving hopelessly as it fell softly to the floor. Hunter’s sixth winner of the night gave the Huskers their first match point, closing it two plays later when Mikaela Foecke clinched Nebraska’s second national championship in three seasons.
The play to bring up match point was actually one Nebraska worked on a lot when preparing for Final Four opponent Penn State, as the Huskers coaching staff noticed the Nittany Lions defenders getting sucked it. There wasn’t any talk about pulling it out against the Gators, and there was definitely no signal from the sidelines for Hunter to go for it at that moment.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I mean, that’s Kelly. It’s just the great ones have it. You can’t tell them or train that. It’s just the great ones have it.
“She put that thing literally on a dime in that corner. There is nobody that can get to that ball. I think Florida is just like ‘Are you kidding me?’ as they saw that thing going.”
Congratulations to Kelly Hunter on 4,000 career assists! Only 2 #Huskers in school history can claim 4,000 assists in a Husker uniform (Fiona Nepo)! #WithEachOtherForEachOther pic.twitter.com/qVDI03J8dU
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) December 9, 2017
Unfortunately for Cook and the Nebraska faithful, Hunter is one of the pieces they say bye to, but not before the senior walks away with PrepVolleyball.com’s 2017 National Player of the Year.
We stated before the Final Four that our three finalists included Hunter, Penn State’s Simone Lee and Stanford’s Kat Plummer, who was well deserving of all the Player of the Year accolades she received, including the AVCA’s. However, we waited until the Final Four played out for a reason, to have the benefit of the whole picture, the final two parts so important in deciding this year’s POY for us.
It’s much easier to look at the stats of an outside hitter like Plummer and quantify her production. Setters are much harder to judge, as stats rarely tell much of the story. Is the ball consistently in the window? Is the tempo of the sets consistent? Are the decisions consistently the right ones?
Added to that, Hunter isn’t dishing the rock to a 6-6 beast of a hitter like Plummer or Lee. By all accounts, Nebraska is under-sized and not able to match the physicality of the power squads. Foecke and Annika Albrecht’s games are much more finesse than flash. Albrecht was one of three new hitters Hunter was adjusting to, and we saw how the Huskers struggled early this season when Hunter was out.
Florida coach Mary Wise called Hunter the best in the nation at her position, and for all that Hunter is PVB’s pick.
“Mikaela was really, really good tonight,” Wise said after the national championship match. “Her ability to terminate – if I was to choose an MVP, it would have been Kelly Hunter. Mikaela has a great arm, but Kelly, I think was the best setter in the country, and I think on the biggest stage and on the biggest night, I think she was the best player on the floor.”