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Beason Puts Huskers on her Back in First-Round Sweep of Long Island

by Dec 1, 2023Nebraska Volleyball

Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Pinnacle Bank

Merritt Beason didn’t have much of a voice on Friday night, but fortunately for the Huskers her game was plenty loud enough as No. 1 Nebraska swept Long Island in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Beason dealt with an illness leading up to the tournament and although she said she felt fine during the match, it left her voice hoarse and she played with a cough drop in her mouth. Even so, she posted match-high 13 kills on .478 hitting and seven digs, dominating late to ensure the Huskers didn’t let the third set slip through their fingers.

Nebraska topped Long Island 25-13, 25-16, 25-22 in front of a tournament crowd of 8,599 at the Devaney Center. The Huskers hit .280 for the match and held the Sharks to .151.

“Long Island played their style of volleyball tonight, kind of took us out of our game a little bit and they got better as the match went on and made it a competitive match,” Coach John Cook said. “A lot of credit to them and we’ll need to be better tomorrow.”

Harper Murray finished with nine kills on .154 hitting and eight digs. Bergen Reilly put up 33 assists, nine digs, three kills and three aces. Laney Choboy led the defensive effort with 10 digs.

The Sharks out-blocked Nebraska eight to six and Camelia Melendez gave the Huskers problems, putting up 12 kills on .281 hitting.

“Like Coach said, they play a different style of volleyball than we do so it was definitely not necessarily what we were used to,” Beason said. “But I think we could have been a little bit more disciplined, blocking specifically but I think defense as a whole, especially because we take so much pride in our defense … And then I think we could have been a little more low-error, just forcing them to play volleyball, kind of keeping the ball in the court and relying on that defense just a little bit more.”

Maggie Mendelson (44) hits the ball over the Long Island block of Carla Santiago (21) and Cristal Paulino Rubel (14) in the second set. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Maggie Mendelson got the start at middle blocker in place of fellow sophomore Bekka Allick. Cook said Mendelson had been training well and he wanted to get her an opportunity to play. She finished with season highs in kills (six) and blocks (four), hitting .333.

“I’m just super grateful to be able to be on this team and have the opportunity that Coach gave me today,” Mendelson said. “I feel like whenever you get put in these moments, you always wish you could play a little bit better, but it’s I’m just grateful to have the opportunity to be out there.”

Nebraska terminated on 10 of its first 12 swings of the match and added three aces and two blocks to race out to a 19-7 lead in set one and cruised to the finish from there.

The Huskers cooled off down the stretch to hit .269 but held Long Island to minus-.040 hitting and just four kills. Ally Batenhorst had four kills by herself, and Nebraska served up four aces from four different players in the set.

Long Island did a better job of hanging in there early in set two, but the Huskers used three straight kills — one from Murray and two from Beason — to open up a 12-7 lead midway through. The Sharks cut the deficit to two a couple of times but a 3-0 Huskers spurt stretched it back to five then a 6-0 run featuring two more aces from Reilly gave Huskers set point.

Long Island saved one set point, but Mendelson closed it out on the next rally with a kill. Nebraska hit .278 behind four kills on eight errorless swings from Beason. The Sharks hit .214 and doubled their kills total from the first set with Melendez scoring five by herself.

“[Melendez] did a really nice job,” Cook said. “My theme for them was we have to be disciplined, and we were not disciplined, and so they make you pay. That’s the bottom line. You’ve got to give them credit and they kept battling. They could have packed it in but this is their Final Four right here. This is their national championship match. And for them, they were loose and did a nice job and hit some really good serves. I told the team in our stats, this is the best serving team we played all year and they hit some really good serves. We passed OK, we didn’t pass great.”

Long Island won the opening rally in set three to take its first lead of the night and carried that momentum forward. The Sharks used a 4-0 run to build an 8-3 lead, terminating on seven of their first nine swings as Nebraska managed just on kills on its first seven attacks.

Long Island led by as much as six before the Huskers managed to get themselves back in the game, using  a 4-0 run featuring a kill and two block assists from Mendelson to trim the deficit to one at 12-11. Long Island maintained its lead until a kill from Murray finally tied it up at 20-20, awakening the Devaney Center after a quiet start to the set as the Huskers struggled.

Beason credited fellow captain Lexi Rodriguez for speaking up and leading the comeback from a vocal standpoint in her place.

“I think Lexi is very good at picking up on what the team needs,” Mendelson said. “She’s not always the most outwardly excited player, she keeps a calm head most of the time, but in the third set, she was really giving us energy and I thought it was really cool that she was able to step in that role for Merritt.”

Four straight sideouts followed before a Shark hit long to give Nebraska its first lead of the set at 23-22. An extended rally followed that saw the Sharks reject a Beason swing back to Nebraska’s side, though Murray reacted quickly to get the ball up and Reilly went right back to Beason for a big kill. Beason terminated again on the next point to complete the sweep.

The captain accounted for eight of Nebraska’s 15 kills in the third set, hitting .500.

“That was awesome, because nobody else was killing the ball,” Cook said. “That’s one of her jobs, so I’m glad she was able to do that. I thought she made a couple of great kills, especially when we needed it, and some of those were out of system. There were some long rallies.”

Nebraska hit .289 as a team in game three while Long Island hit .225. The Huskers matched their block total from the first two sets combined with three in game three.

The Huskers will take on No. 8 seed Missouri in the second round as the Tigers swept Delaware 25-17, 25-22, 25-23 in the first match of the day at the Devaney Center Friday. Sophomore pin Janet deMarrais led the attack with 13 kills on .290 hitting while junior opposite Jordan Iliff added 10 kills on .286 hitting.

Saturday’s second-round match-up will feel like an old conference rivalry for many of the fans in the Devaney Center, but Cook said it will feel quite different for the players on the court.

“The old people, they would know it was in the Big 12,” Cook said. “These guys would have no clue; they’re in the SEC. So only us older people would know that … We played them, I think, four or five years ago in the tournament. But a lot of respect for Missouri. It’s great program, they’ve had a great year, Dawn [Sullivan] is a great coach, so it’s going to be a great match.”

First serve from the Devaney Center is set for 7 p.m. CT on Saturday night and the match will again be streamed on ESPN+ for subscribers.

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