No. 1 Nebraska took care of business against Michigan and received a bit of help from Purdue to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title on Friday night.
The Huskers swept the Wolverines 25-15, 25-12, 25-20 at the Devaney Center while the Boilermakers outlasted the Badgers in five to give Nebraska a three-match lead with three to play. Nebraska is 26-0 including 17-0 in Big Ten play, and the Huskers completed a perfect regular season in the Devaney Center on Friday.
“I thought this was one of the better matches we’ve played in a couple weeks,” Coach John Cook said. “I thought our team came out really focused tonight. We were very good blocking and defensively. The first couple games they really had a hard time even getting the ball down …
“I think they wanted to play great tonight for our fans. No senior night but our last home match, and one of our goals was to be undefeated at home this year and we accomplished that. It’s a long season and to do that at home is pretty special. A lot of credit to our fans.”
Fans got word of the Wisconsin loss during the second set, and their reaction confused the players in the moment, but even after learning the result, the Huskers aren’t celebrating yet.
“We’re focused on Iowa on Sunday,” Merritt Beason said. “We want to win the Big Ten outright and we’re not done with our season yet. So we’re just staying locked in on what’s ahead and we haven’t accomplished our goals yet.”
The match got off to an ominous start as problems with the sound system disrupted the normal pre-match routine and resulted in no music or public address announcements until midway through the first set. The Huskers handled the unconventional environment well.
“It was weird, but I think we did a great job adjusting to it,” Harper Murray said. “Obviously that’s not our normal routine and our team talks about routine a lot. So I think just being able to adjust in those moments, which we did fine, obviously.”
Murray bounced back from a three-match hitting slump to put up nine kills on .273 hitting with plenty of family in the crowd to watch her take on her sister, Kendall, a senior with the Wolverines. The two shared a moment together on the court after the match.
“We talked about getting a picture at the end, so I kind of wanted to wait for her, but I know it’s cool for my mom to see that and it’s special that she was able to play here and we got that picture. I’m proud of her and her team and I know a lot of the other girls on that team, and playing them means a lot to me just because I played with a lot of them growing up too at Legacy.”
Nebraska hit .368 led by the middle blockers. Andi Jackson matched Murray with nine kills on .727 hitting while Bekka Allick added seven kills on .700 hitting and five blocks. Bergen Reilly put up 28 assists, six digs, four kills, one block and one ace.
Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with 15 digs as Nebraska held Michigan to .047 hitting.
“I just thought our effort on defense, block and defense, was really good,” Cook said. “We passed pretty well tonight. When you have two middles that hit .700, you’re doing something pretty well. That’s a really good job right there. We only had nine attack errors in three games. Michigan’s been a hot team, they’d won four of their last five and they’d been playing really well. They’re a much better team than when we played them in Ann Arbor two months ago or whatever it was.”
Nebraska won seven of the first 10 rallies in set one with Allick setting the tone, recording thee kills in the first seven points. The Wolverines cut the deficit to two a few times, but the Huskers stretched it back out with a 3-0 run featuring a pair of Murray kills and a Reilly ace and continued to extend the lead as the set rolled on.
Nebraska hit .333 thanks to a balanced attack with four kills apiece from Murray and Beason while Michigan only mustered six kills on a .026 hitting clip.
Michigan’s struggles continued into the second set with three attack and two services errors early as Nebraska raced out to an 11-3 lead. Michigan cut into the lead with three straight, but the Huskers controlled the action the rest of the way and closed the set on a 5-0 run.
Nebraska hit .467 in game two and held Michigan to minus-.067. Five different hitters — including Reilly herself — hit .333 or better with three or more kills through the first two sets as Nebraska continued to spread the offense around.
Nebraska cooled off a bit early in set three as the Wolverines played from the lead for the first time. After three ties, Nebraska scored three straight including back-to-back double blocks from Batenhorst and Allick to take an 11-8 lead.
The Huskers extended the lead to four a few times before Michigan pulled within one at 19-18, but an Allick kill triggered a 6-2 finish for the Huskers to complete the sweep.
Nebraska hit .345 while Michigan hit .162 to get back into the positive for the match.
The Huskers will hit the road to close out week nine in Iowa City against a Hawkeye squad still searching for its first conference win.
“We want to win the Big Ten outright,” Beason said. “We want to go undefeated all the way. We want to win the whole thing. We have big goals and we want to achieve them.”
First serve on Sunday is set for 2 p.m. CT and the match will be available on Big Ten Plus for subscribers.