For the first time since 2016, Nebraska is the outright Big Ten champion.
The No. 1 Huskers (27-0, 18-0) clinched that title on Sunday with a 25-21, 25-21, 25-15 sweep at Iowa in front of a predominately red crowd. Nebraska last won a conference title in 2017 when the Huskers shared the championship with Penn State.
As the ball hit the ground for a match-point ace from Laney Choboy, capping a 12-2 finish to the match, the team dog-piled in celebration of the season-long accomplishment.
“For me, it’s kind of like the stadium match, it’s still a little bit surreal because it’s such a long grind in the Big Ten and then you get to that moment,” Coach John Cook said. “I was actually surprised tonight, I didn’t think our players felt very much pressure but I saw, we didn’t play great tonight, Iowa played really well and I saw the emotion at the end, how much that meant to them. It just felt like 1000 pounds came off of us to clinch it and win that match today.”
Cook said he was shocked by the outpouring of emotion from the team based on the way the players acted previously, though he understands it.
“To win it outright was a major statement and I think was something they really wanted,” Cook said. “I saw us in game three really turn it up. They made a statement in game three. They played some really great volleyball the last 15 points of that game.”
Nebraska hit .223 as Merritt Beason led the way with 12 kills, eight digs. Bekka Allick, Harper Murray and Ally Batenhorst notched nine kills apiece while Murray added nine digs. Bergen Reilly finished with 37 assists and nine digs while Lexi Rodriguez posted a match-high 19 digs. The Huskers out-dug the Hawkeyes by 14 and held them to .121 hitting.
“It’s awesome,” Beason said. “We’ve been working since January for this and we knew that this was one of our biggest goals and something that we really wanted to accomplish. We wanted to win it outright, so for all of the hard work to pay off is really, really exciting … I don’t think any of us would say we were surprised. We knew how good of a team we were going to be. I don’t think other people knew, really, what to expect because we are such a new and fresh team this year. No one really knew what to expect, but we did. We knew what we had, we knew the talent, we knew the chemistry that we had and that’s something that you can’t find all the time. So we knew it was going to be a special year.”
Nebraska clinched at least a share of the title at the Devaney Center on Wednesday, and the amount of fans that traveled to Iowa City on Sunday made it feel like the Huskers clinched the outright title in front of a home crowd as well.
“It was awesome,” Beason said. “Husker nation is one of a kind and you saw it here. There’s red everywhere in the stands and it made it more like a home environment for us. So it was so special because obviously we wish we would have won at home, but having them made it feel like it was at home.”
Nebraska led wire to wire in set one while the third set was much closer, featuring 11 ties. Nebraska fell behind by four early in set three and played catch-up for much of the set. The Huskers used a 6-1 run to surge ahead before Iowa tied it up again at 13-13.
The Huskers dominated play from that point forward as the 12-2 closing run featured six kills from four different hitters, a pair of blocks and the final ace from Choboy. Six different Huskers scored during the decisive run.
“I’ve just got to soak this in and be amazed by these players and the leadership and how hard they’ve worked and their belief in each other,” Cook said. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch. The fans who showed up here, this is unreal. For that many people to be in an opponent’s gym to come see us win this thing just shows you how much love their is for this team.”
Though the Huskers have already rapped up the conference championship, Nebraska still has one week of Big Ten matches remaining before selection Sunday. The Huskers will head to No. 3 Wisconsin Friday before closing out the regular season at Minnesota on Saturday.