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Huskers Block Missouri’s Path Forward, Advance with Sweep

by Dec 2, 2023Nebraska Volleyball

Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The top-seeded Huskers weren’t happy with their performance in Friday night’s opening-round sweep of Long Island. Freshman setter Bergen Reilly said the Huskers came in with a chip on their shoulder Saturday night against No. 8 Missouri, wanting to play with more urgency.

“We wanted to go out there and make a statement and prove that we should be the one seed in the tournament,” Reilly said.

The result was another sweep as the Huskers took down the Tigers 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 in front of 8,640 fans at the Devaney Center. Nebraska hit .264 and held Missouri to .089, finishing with five aces and just four service errors.

“I thought Missouri came out and played great,” Coach John Cook said. “Their two left-side hitters did a really nice job of killing balls. They played really hard, they served great. I think Dawn [Sullivan] is building a great powerhouse program there and it was a really tough match. So congrats to Missouri on getting to this point.

“We’re happy we got a win tonight. I thought our team made some big plays when we needed them and kept the momentum and the crowd into it, which I think was huge. But I thought it was a really well-played match.”

Merritt Beason led the way for the Huskers again with 12 kills on .435 hitting and added five blocks. Reilly recorded her first postseason double-double with 26 assists, 10 digs, four aces, two kills and two blocks. Lexi Rodriguez led the back-row defense with a match-high 11 digs.

One area of significant improvement from Friday to Saturday was Nebraska’s block as the Huskers recorded 14 stuffs after the Sharks out-blocked them eight to six in the first round. Bekka Allick, who rejoined the lineup after Maggie Mendelson started in her place on Friday, led the way with eight blocks while chipping in five kills on .333 and a pair of digs.

“I’ve said I think she’s the best blocker in the conference,” Cook said. “You can’t go by just stuffs, but she makes plays up there. She makes what we call beach plays, the little plays at the net, out of the net. She made a great up on I can’t remember if we hit it into the net or if it came rolling over or whatever, but it was a bang-bang play and she just finds a way. Not many middles can do that, but that’s why she’s on our number one beach team, because she can do those types of plays as a middle. She brings energy, she competes, so it spreads.”

Reilly set the tone with a 7-0 serving run to start the match that included three aces, two blocks and two kills for Nebraska.

“We like to start off strong and just kind of getting that lead right away is always huge,” Reilly said. “I was kind of just going into the match with that mindset.”

She finally missed on her eighth serve and the Nebraska offense got a bit bogged down from there with errors, allowing the Tigers to pull within two a couple of times. However, the Husker block came alive after that and fueled an 11-2 run to give the Huskers firm control of the set, and they closed it out from there. Ally Batenhorst closed it out with a kill.

The Huskers only hit .111 in the set but added six blocks and three aces to their eight kills as the Tigers hit minus-.240.

Nebraska used a 6-1 run early in set two to create some separation at 9-4, and the Huskers fended off every Tiger comeback from there. Missouri cut the deficit to two a couple times and then to three, but a 5-0 run featuring a pair of kills from Allick and a Harper Murray ace extended the lead to eight at 20-12 and Nebraska cruised through the rest of the set.

The Huskers hit over .400 for much of the set before a couple of late errors dripped their percentage to .333. Missouri hit .216. Beason tacked on four more kills to her total, giving her seven on 12 attacks through two sets.

Missouri struck first in set three for its first lead of the night, but the Huskers responded with back-to-back kills for the first of seven lead changes in a back-and-forth game three. The teams continued to trade blows throughout the set with 14 ties (after none in the first set and two in the second).

Sierra Dudley terminated to give the Tigers a 20-19 lead late in the set — their last lead of the night. The Devaney Center crowd cranked up the noise at that point and the Huskers seemed to feed off the energy, forcing back-to-back Missouri errors to spark a 6-1 close to the match. Beason put the finishing touches on the match with kills on the final two rallies.

The Husker block emerged again with six more stuffs in game three as Nebraska held Missouri to .179 hitting with 11 errors. Beason led the offense with five kills as Nebraska hit .273.

The players and coaches highlighted discipline as an area for improvement after Friday night, and Cook said he was happy with the team’s response in that area, particularly with their block and defense.

“We were better tonight, much better,” Cook said. “Of course, we were going against way more physical and better hitters. They made some great shots tonight but the end of the night they only hit .089 and they set a lot of balls to their left sides … We did a pretty good job. We got used a few times but I thought we made adjustments. We followed the game plan really, really well tonight. So for the most part, we made a huge, huge jump in that area. I tell them ‘focus equals discipline,’ so they were much more focused tonight.”

Nebraska advances to the regional semifinal round to host No. 5 seed Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets outlasted No. 4 Florida in the second round after taking down South Alabama 3-1 in the first.

No. 2 Kentucky and No. 3 will also travel to Lincoln for the second weekend, bringing a SEC showdown to the Devaney Center for the third round. The Wildcats went 2-0 against the Razorbacks during the regular season (3-2, 3-0) to capture the SEC title.

The third round of the tournament in Lincoln is set for Thursday while the regional final will follow on Saturday. Nebraska will face Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. CT on ESPN 2 with Kentucky and Arkansas to follow at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU, while Saturday;s Elite Eight matchup is set for 5 p.m. on ESPNU.

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