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Dominant Defensive Effort Sends No. 1 Nebraska to Regional Final

by Dec 7, 2023Nebraska Volleyball

Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

No. 1 Nebraska volleyball used a smothering defensive effort to sweep No. 5 Georgia Tech on Thursday and advance to the Regional Final.

The Huskers held Georgia Tech to 30 kills and forced 28 attack errors in a 25-11, 25-16, 25-21 sweep on Thursday afternoon at the Devaney Center.

“I thought our team prepared really, really well, and you could see we were all over them with our game plan,” Coach John Cook said. “They had a hard time getting kills; we were touching everything, digging everything. So again, I want to give credit to our team and Jaylen [Reyes] preparing us for what they were going to do. When you hold a team at this stage of the game to .019, that’s a great defensive effort on our part.”

Nebraska hit .326 while committing just nine attack errors. The Yellow Jackets’ .019 hitting percentage is the second lowest of the season for a Nebraska opponent, behind only Omaha’s -.080 during the outdoor match at Memorial Stadium. Nebraska out-blocked Georgia Tech 11 to two.

Merritt Beason led the way with a match-high 11 kills on .435 hitting, eight digs, four blocks and an ace. Ally Batenhorst added 10 kills on .280 hitting. Middle blockers Bekka Allick and Andi Jackson combined for 10 kills on .529 hitting and nine blocks.

Bergen Reilly recorded her fourth double-double in her last five matches with 30 assists, 10 digs and three blocks. Lexi Rodriguez posted a match-high 12 digs.

Lindsay Krause went through warm-ups in uniform for the first time since suffering a severe ankle injury before the Northwestern match on Oct. 18, though she did not play.

Despite the mid-day start time, announced attendance was 8,580.

“The crowd was awesome … You could tell right in the beginning they were they were fired up today and I think Saturday is going to go another notch,” Cook said.

Nebraska raced out to a 10-3 lead to start the match behind four early kills from Batenhorst. Georgia Tech scored three in a row to cut the deficit to four, but the Yellow Jackets struggled to find the court with their attacks and Nebraska continued to extend the lead the rest of the set for a 14-point win.

“We were just kind of going for it,” Batenhorst said of her hot start. “I think when those hit the ground, it just kind of brought a lot of momentum for our team and I think for me especially, it just kind of set the tone for the match, for myself and the team. We prepared a lot and Bergen and I were flowing.”

Nebraska hit .281, though the Yellow Jackets scored nearly as many points for Nebraska as the Huskers did with 11 attack errors and a minus-.111 hitting percentage. Nebraska only recorded one block in the set.

Nebraska jumped out to a 6-1 lead in set two and led 14-9 before a 3-0 Yellow Jacket run. However, Beason took a big rip to side out for the Huskers and Jackson followed with a block assist and a kill to push the lead back to five, and the Huskers cruised from there.

Nebraska’s block came alive with seven roofs including four assists from Jackson (to go with three kills) and two solo stuffs from Beason. The Huskers held the Yellow Jackets to .029 hitting and 10 errors while hitting .500 with just one error themselves.

“It’s huge, not only for our team, but I think it kind of makes the other team lose momentum,” Jackson said of the Nebraska block. “Obviously as a hitter, it’s hard to get blocked, especially after hitting errors and then going for it and just getting stuffed. It’s huge for momentum on our side and then it just kills your confidence as a hitter. So I think we did a really good job today adjusting and we had really disciplined blocking, which we really worked on this week in practice.”

Nebraska led wire to wire in the first two sets, but the third set saw 15 ties and five lead changes as neither side was able to put together any kind of sustained run until late in the set.

Leading 19-18, Georgia Tech missed its serve to tie it up. The Yellow Jackets rejected a Batenhorst swing on the following rally, but Reilly and Allick kept the ball alive and Beason terminated to give the Huskers the lead for good.

“Obviously I didn’t hit the greatest shot, so it was nice that they were there to cover,” Batenhorst said. “I think we have a lot of crazy plays in practice all the time and we work on really managing those tough balls and I think that’s what makes our team really special is we know how to manage and come back even stronger from plays aren’t really working out for us. So I think when that happened, it was just kind of like everyone expected it to hit the floor, but our team doesn’t let that happen and we execute those plays and it kind of just made the whole Bob erupt.”

Nebraska added four more points to make it a 6-0 run and earn set point. Georgia Tech won the next two rallies, but Beason closed it out on the Huskers’ third try to send Nebraska to the Elite Eight.

Nebraska hit .250 and held the Yellow Jackets to .147 thanks in part to four more blocks. After a quiet first two sets, Beason took over in game three with seven kills on .545 hitting.

“They took it up another level,” Cook said of his team’s performance. “I think they were just more confident and comfortable. We talked about with the NCAA Tournament, there’s all this riff-raff going on. There’s all these other people here and TV people here and you can see all the riff-raff going on. You’re told when you can practice, all this stuff. So I just think the first time you go through that, it is distracting. And so I think they were way more comfortable with everything this week. Playing on a Thursday at 1 o’clock, it’s not a normal thing for us, and so I thought they handled that really well.”

The Huskers advance to the regional final on Saturday and will play the winner of No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 Arkansas, which followed the Huskers and Yellow Jackets at the Devaney Center. The Elite Eight match is set for 5 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

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