Well-traveled former Husker Mikaela Foecke hoping to extend journey with Team USA

LINCOLN — Those still hunting for a late gift for last weekend’s Foecke-Richter wedding in West Point, Iowa, might consider looking if the couple is registered at Rand McNally.

An atlas could help the bride track her recent travel path, but Mikaela Foecke hopes her journeys will be extended at least one more week. Wednesday she made a strong case to join Team USA when it heads to China for next week’s stop in the Volleyball Nations League.

Foecke had a team-high 13 kills to pace the United States to a 25-18, 25-22, 25-18 win over Germany at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Afterward, she paused to retrace her steps of what has been a hectic six weeks as she begins her international career.

The path started in April, when Foecke was in New York City at the AAU Sullivan Award ceremony. After returning to Lincoln for her graduation from Nebraska, she flew to California to train with Team USA, then made the roster for the first week of Volleyball Nations League play in Bulgaria.

While the rest of the team went to Italy the next week, Foecke came back to California and spent the first three days of her wedding week at USA volleyball’s training facility. A travel delay put her into Iowa at 4 a.m. Thursday, two days before her wedding. After tying the knot, she returned to Lincoln the next day to rejoin Team USA for a Sunday evening practice at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“I didn’t think about it like this, I’m gonna be honest,” she said. “You make me sound a little bit crazy.”

But Foecke’s unflappability hasn’t escaped the notice of U.S. coach Karch Kiraly.

“What strikes a lot of people who don’t know her that well — which is a lot of us in this program — is just how steady and even she can be and how chill she can be,” he said. “Which is something she demonstrated over and over again for her Nebraska program.”

Foecke had five kills in the third set to help Team USA pull away from a 13-13 tie and keep the Americans tied atop the VNL standings, joining Turkey and Italy with 7-1 records heading into the final match in Lincoln against Brazil (5-3) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

With veteran outsides like Michelle Bartsch-Hackley and Kim Hill still resting after their club seasons ended last month, Foecke knows a more prominent role with the program may have to wait. But every swing gives her a chance to make an impression.

“Knowing just the outsides we have here and the outsides we have yet to come, I think there’s so many great options that (Kiraly) really can’t go wrong,” she said. “Really, I’m just lucky to be here in general.”

Former Husker Kelsey Robinson joined Foecke in the starting lineup to give Nebraska claim to both starting outside hitter spots for the second straight night. Robinson’s 18 points — coming on 11 kills, four blocks and three aces — led all scorers.

At the Lincoln stop during last year’s Volleyball Nations League, Kiraly asked Robinson to switch to libero for the first time in her career. After she played outside for one of the world’s top club teams, VakifBank in Turkey, Wednesday was the first time Robinson played outside for Team USA in 2019. Kiraly said it wouldn’t be the last, as Robinson’s flexibility makes her a versatile weapon.

“I met with Karch in February, and he and I talked, and I told him I’d do whatever I have to do,” Robinson said. “I just want to be part of USA. I don’t feel like I need to prove anything. I feel I’ve earned where I’m at, but there’s always much more to learn and much more to get better at, and I’m trying to find those inches everywhere.”

More veterans figure to join the Americans’ roster as the U.S. readies for an August Olympic qualifying tournament and the World Cup in September. But rookie opposite hitter Jordan Thompson continued to give Kiraly something to think about with nine kills and three aces Wednesday.

Thompson, who led the NCAA in kills per set last season at Cincinnati, broke open a tight second set with three late kills and clinched the win with back-to-back aces.

The 3-0 victory was important for tiebreakers in the VNL, but Kiraly said the result shouldn’t mask some areas he hoped would improve Thursday against a more talented Brazilian team. The Americans outblocked Germany 10-7, but let too many shots get through to Kiraly’s liking.

“I still don’t think we’re as dialed in as we need to be,” Kiraly said. “That wasn’t Germany’s first team. That was mostly their second team. There’s still some things we’ve got to clean up.

“We can be happy with the win and happy with a 3-0 result, but unhappy with some things we’ve still got to get better at.”

Germany (2-6).........18 22 18

U.S. (7-1)...............25 25 25

Brazil def. Korea 25-17, 25-16, 25-11

After getting upset by world No. 15 Germany in five games Tuesday, No. 4 Brazil bounced back with a 25-17, 25-16, 25-11 sweep of Korea.

Outside hitter Gabriela Braga Guimaraes had a match-high 14 kills on 23 swings to pace Brazil, which improved to 5-3 in the Volleyball Nations League ahead of Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. match against the U.S. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The Brazilians rolled up a 50-32 advantage in kills, outblocked the Koreans 7-0 and had three aces without allowing Korea a service winner of its own.

Kang Sohwi was the only Korean to reach double figures with 10 kills. The Koreans, who fell to 1-7 in the VNL, close their week in Lincoln against Germany at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

Brazil (5-3)...........25 25 25

Korea (1-7)..........17 16 11