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Huskers Clean Up in Big Ten Postseason Awards

by Nov 30, 2023Nebraska Volleyball

Nebraska Cornhusker huddle up before the start of the match against the Illinois Fighting Illini during the volleyball match on Sunday, November 12, 2023, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Following a 28-1 regular season and a Big Ten title, No. 1 Nebraska cleaned up during the Big Ten postseason awards show on Big Ten Network Thursday.

Huskers won four of the five individual awards and Nebraska placed multiple players on each of the All-Big Ten teams as voted on by the league’s coaches.

John Cook is the Coach of the Year, junior libero Lexi Rodriguez is the Defensive Player of the Year, freshman Bergen Reilly is the Setter of the Year and outside hitter Harper Murray is the Freshman of the Year.

Junior opposite hitter Merritt Beason, Rodriguez, Reilly and Murray made the All-Big Ten First Team (with Beason and Rodriguez being unanimous selections) while sophomore middle blocker Bekka Allick and freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson were second-team selections. Reilly, Murray and Jackson were Freshman Team picks, with the first two being unanimous. Sophomore middle blocker Maggie Mendelson was Nebraska’s Sportsmanship honoree.

“I think it’s great,” Rodriguez said of the recognition. “We always talk about it, but none of us would be able to do any of it without every single person on the team … We’re just so thankful that we get to be a part of such a great team that wins together, loses together and these awards are for every single person on the team. So I think it just says a lot about how hard we’ve worked since January.”

The Huskers won their first outright Big Ten title since 2016 — by two full matches, no less — and they did it while starting four freshmen and losing a starter to injury for a big chunk of the season. Nebraska was No. 5 in the preseason AVCA Coaches Poll but heads into the NCAA Tournament No. 1 and as the top overall seed despite having no seniors on the roster. This is Cook’s fourth Big Ten Coach of the Year award and eight conference coach of the year honor overall.

“I think that is one of the ultimate things is when your peers recognize you, so that means a lot because I know how hard this conference is and how many great coaches there are and how competitive it is,” Cook told Rick Pizzo on Big Ten Network. “Again, to win that award is hard and it means a lot. I’m very, very appreciative and there are a lot of coach other coaches that certainly could deserve it.”

Rodriguez didn’t post her best statistical season, finishing 10th in the Big Ten in digs at 3.60 per set, but the Huskers fielded the best defense in the big Ten as teams hit .141 against them (third in the country). She won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice. She’s now a two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year recipient, one of just five players ever to accomplish that feat.

“I think everyone just knows you’re not supposed to hit to Lexi and our team knows that too; in practice you don’t want to hit to Lexi because it’s getting up,” Reilly said. “So everyone has a big respect for her and our entire team does too. It’s really cool that people are still kind of seeing that and not just pushing her away because she was lower in those statistical categories.”

The Illinois native recorded double-digit digs in 22 of Nebraska’s 29 matches with a high of 19 in three sets at Iowa in the Huskers’ outright league title-clinching win. She put up 18 digs in Nebraska sweep against Penn State as well.

As a true freshman, Reilly led the Big Ten and was 12th nationally in assists per set at 10.47. She added 2.60 digs and 0.51 blocks per game and recorded 12 double-doubles. The 6-foot-1 South Dakota native earned Big Ten Setter of the Week four times and Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times. With Reilly guiding the offense, the Huskers improved from .244 hitting last year to .282 this season, second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally. She’s the first freshman to win the award since its inception in 2012.

“I was really surprised by it,” Reilly said of the honor. “I didn’t know that there had not been a freshman, but also just getting that award with so many other great setters in the conference, it’s a big honor and I don’t really take that lightly and I don’t think any of us do. I think we really do appreciate all of the awards we get, but we couldn’t do it without the team. So this isn’t an individual honor. I have to thank my passers for all the great passes and my hitters for putting the ball down.”

Reilly posted a season-high 54 assists in a five-set win at Purdue, adding 12 digs, five kills and an ace. She put up 50 assists, a season-high 17 digs, four kills and an ace in the five-set win against Wisconsin. She also finished with 52 assists and 13 digs in a five-set win at Penn State.

Murray finished 10th in the Big Ten in points and kills per set while playing all six rotations, averaging 3.29 kills per set on .250 hitting and 2.10 digs per set. She recorded seven double-doubles and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times.

“I’m really happy for her,” Reilly said. “I think she deserves all of it. She’s had a huge year, she’s carried a big load on this team and she’s done it with grace. And so I’m really proud of her and I’m happy that she can get that award.”

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native put up 12 kills on .412 hitting, six digs and three aces in Nebraska’s four-set win at Stanford then followed that with 17 kills on .308 hitting and 10 digs in Nebraska’s 3-1 win against Kentucky. She posted a season-high 21 kills plus 10 digs in Nebraska’s win at Purdue. She had 15 kills on .379 hitting and 14 digs in Nebraska’s win at Penn State. Murray closed out the regular season with 13 kills, a season-high 17 digs and three aces in the Huskers’ four-set win at Minnesota.

Beason was in contention for Big Ten Player of the Year in her first season with the Huskers, though the award went to Wisconsin’s Sarah Franklin. The Florida transfer led the Huskers in total points and was sixth in the Big Ten at 4.49 per set. She averaged 3.81 kills per set (seventh in the conference) on .284 hitting with 2.08 digs and 0.78 blocks per set while playing all six rotations. She recorded four double-doubles, was a four-time Big Ten Player of the Week and also earned National Player of the Week one time.

The Alabama native put up 17 kills on .438 hitting and 10 digs against Kentucky, 22 kills on .400 hitting and 12 digs in four sets at Indiana, a career-high 27 kills on .426 hitting at Penn State and 21 kills on .302 hitting and nine digs against Minnesota in the regular season finale.

Jackson made an immediate impact as a freshman, finishing second in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .408. She averaged 2.10 kills per set and 1.06 blocks per set and earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week once.

The Colorado native post four double-digit-kill matches including a season-high 13 on .524 hitting against Michigan State. She also had 10 kills apiece against Kansas State and Kentucky, hitting .750 and .500 in those matches.

Allick was fourth in the Big Ten in blocks at 1.35 per set and also added 1.82 kills per set on .324 hitting. She had 11 kills on .381 hitting and five blocks at Penn State, 11 kills on .563 hitting and seven blocks in four sets against Northwestern and 12 kills on .474 hitting and five blocks in four sets against Illinois. She had seven kills on .500 hitting and eight blocks at Stanford. The Lincoln native also posted a career-high 10 blocks plus eight kills at Minnesota.

“We try to be balanced, so we don’t have just one player leading us,” Cook said. “I saw a stat today that Sarah Franklin gets almost 50% of their out-of-system swings. I think our highest was Harper at 34%. That’s a big difference. So we’ve got a lot of people taking big swings and trying to balance the load. And so I think that might be reflected in some of those awards. We’re a balanced team and we have a lot of players that are contributing to that.”

Nebraska’s four first-team honorees ties a program record since joining the Big Ten and the six total All-Big Ten selections is a new program-high for all-conference honors.

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