While the third-seeded Hogs kept the No. 1 Huskers on their toes much of the way and handed them their first set loss of the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska ultimately proved too much for Arkansas to handle as the Razorbacks fell to the Cornhuskers in four sets in Lincoln, Neb. on Saturday.
The match caps a historic season for Arkansas, as it was the first-ever regional final for the Hogs in program history. They finish the year 28-6, the most wins since 1999, and the third straight season with 20+ wins. Arkansas also saw its highest-ever ranking at No. 8, best record in SEC play since 2003 at 15-3, and best 20-match start to the season ever at 18-2, just to name a few achievements.
In her final match as a Hog, Jill Gillen came through in a big way with a team-high 14 kills, four aces and nine digs. Just behind her was fellow graduate hitter Maggie Cartwright, who had 11 kills, which included set point in the third to keep the Hogs' season alive, and 10 digs for a double-double. After two great showings in regional play, both Gillen and Cartwright were named to the All-Tournament Team.
Senior Taylor Head also had a great night on both sides of the ball for Arkansas with 10 kills and a team-high 18 digs.
Despite a deafening crowd of 8,713 fans at the Devaney Center, the Hogs came out blazing to start the match and held the Huskers to one point at a time and held a 9-5 lead, which sent the Huskers to a timeout. An ace by Gillen shortly after doubled it at 12-6, to which the Huskers responded with four straight points. Arkansas called time, maintained control, and led by as many as five. Nebraska used a timeout to regroup and it worked, as the Huskers pulled closer and closer. Cartwright put the Hogs two away, but Nebraska went on a 4-1 tear that flipped the script and put set point in the Huskers' hands. A block by them got the two they needed to put the set away 26-24.
Whatever jitters the Huskers had in the first set were quickly erased, as Nebraska quickly led 9-2. The Huskers gave the Hogs no room whatsoever, and Arkansas couldn't find a way to put more than two points at a time together at any point during the set. Nebraska led by 10 off a kill and while Arkansas got one more point via Nebraska service error, the Huskers closed the set 25-14 and took a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set was mostly back-and-forth through the midway point with six ties, but an Arkansas service error made it 12-10 in favor of the Huskers. The Hogs responded with three straight, including back-to-back aces from Gillen, and then it was 13-12 Arkansas. Oregon regained the lead briefly, but the Razorbacks rattled off four and pushed it to 8-15, which prompted a Nebraska timeout. The Huskers came within one twice, but the Hogs used three kills to bring up set point. Nebraska tacked on another, but a Cartwright kill ended the third 25-20 for the Razorbacks and kept Arkansas' hopes alive.
Nebraska got an early lead in the fourth and limited most of Arkansas' chances as the Huskers went up 13-8. Arkansas then took a timeout and capped off a 5-1 run with a Gillen kill, which cut the deficit to two and prompted a Husker huddle. Arkansas stayed persistent and tied it twice at 16- and 17-all, the latter turned into a 3-0 run with an ace from Courtney Jackson for a two-point Razorback advantage. A timeout and an overturned point rejuvenated Nebraska for the lead, and Arkansas called time down 21-20. While the Hogs did tie it once after and spoiled match point, a service error concluded the set 25-23 in the Huskers' favor and punched their ticket to Tampa with the 3-1 victory.