No. 1 Nebraska bounced back from Friday’s loss to take down Minnesota in four sets, finishing the regular season 28-1.
The Huskers took down the Golden Gophers 25-19, 25-18, 21-20, 25-23 at the Maturi Pavilion Saturday night as Merritt Beason went off offensively in the first three sets and Bekka Allick closed it out with a dominant blocking display in game four.
“I thought the first two games we played really well,” Coach John Cook told Big Ten Network after the match. “Third game, we got loose there at the end and Minnesota started playing really, really well and we couldn’t stop them. Then the fourth game just came right down to the wire. I told them we’re going to have to win by two points. I told them that at the beginning of the match, I said it’s going to come down to a two-point game to win it. So I guess sometimes the blind squirrel finds the acorn.”
Nebraska hit .235 and held the Gophers to .184 thanks in part to 15 blocks. The Huskers also served six aces.
“Today was a major gut check because we had a tough night last night,” Cook said during his post-match radio interview. “We played really well but it was it was a tough loss and we responded really well, how we came back today. These guys are playing great and nobody’s going to want to see them in the tournament. Doing it here in front of a sold-out crowd, our team showed a lot of guts and resilience and all the things that have got us to this point this year.”
Beason posted a match-high 21 kills on .302 hitting, eight digs, five blocks and an ace. Allick put up a career-high 10 blocks to go with eight kills and five digs.
“Bekka put on a clinic today blocking,” Cook said. “It was unreal. It was unreal, and boy did we need those because we were we were having a hard time converting on them.”
Harper Murray only hit .222 but still put up 13 kills, a career-high 17 digs, four blocks, four assists and three aces. Ally Batenhorst matched her with 13 kills on .235 hitting. Bergen Reilly notched her second-straight double-double (and 12th of the season) with 45 assists, 14 digs, four blocks and three kills.
“I feel great,” Allick told Big Ten Network. “After last night, it tested not only our skills and our gameplay, but also who we were as a team. It tested our 14 strong mentality and if we were actually going to be about it. Winning and losing as a team, it’s tough. It’s easy to want to point fingers, but I think the biggest thing for me is just I have so much trust in each of these girls.”
Nebraska took control early in set one with a 5-1 run early including a pair of kills from Allick, matching her total from the Wisconsin match with three kills just 18 rallies in. The Huskers used another 5-1 run later to extend the lead out to six at 21-15. Reilly had a solo block, a block assist and a joust kill while Murray had two kills during the run.
Minnesota trimmed the lead in half before Nebraska closed the set on a 3-0 run with two kills from Batenhorst and one from Beason.
Nebraska hit .298 and finished with 10 more kills than the Gophers. Beason led the way with five kills while Allick and Batenhorst had four apiece. Nebraska held Minnesota to .128 hitting and recorded three blocks, tying its total from the three-set loss to Wisconsin on Friday.
Beason recorded four kills and an ace early in set two as Nebraska raced out to a 9-3 lead. Minnesota managed to cut it down to two at 13-11 before a 3-0 Huskers run and Nebraska maintained at least a four-point advantage the rest of the way. Like the first set, Nebraska closed game two on a 3-0 run including a set-point ace from Murray.
Beason terminated on her first six swings and finished with nine kills on 13 errorless attacks as Nebraska hit .406 in game two. Minnesota hit .278.
“She did a great job tonight,” Cook said of Beason. “I didn’t realize we set her 53 times but she had some tough sets that she found a way to get kills on … She just willed some kills tonight.”
After seven ties and three lead changes in the first 18 rallies of set three, Nebraska surged ahead 13-9 with a 4-0 run capped by back-to-back kills from Allick. The Huskers maintained their lead until a 4-0 Gopher run tied it up at 17-17.
Eight straight sideouts followed before Minnesota took control, closing the set on a 5-0 run to extend the match.
Minnesota hit .323 while holding Nebraska to .167. Beason tacked on five more kills but the rest of the team totaled just eight kills on .087 hitting as Minnesota recorded four blocks.
Nebraska got off to a good start in set four but gave it back with three straight wild attack errors from three different players to put Minnesota up 8-6. After a timeout to regroup, Murray responded with back-to-back kills to tie it up, and the teams went back and forth over the next several rallies.
Tied at 16-all, Nebraska finally created some separation with a 4-0 run including back-to-back block assists from Allick. The Gophers rallied to cut the deficit down to one at 24-23, but Andi Jackson and Reilly teamed up for Nebraska’s eighth block of the set to close it out. Cook had briefly pulled Jackson multiple times during the match, but she stepped up in the end.
“Second to last timeout, I told Andi, ‘You’re going to have to get a kill or block a ball to get this game,’” Cook said. “She was struggling a little bit and we put her in there to run the slide and she got the block to win it. That was a great response by her to finish that thing off.”
Nebraska only hit .118 but held Minnesota to .065. Batenhorst led the attack with five kills while Allick recorded seven blocks.
“I had a lot a lot to reflect on after last night,” Allick said. “Playing against great competitors, they expose a lot of your weaknesses and I wanted to try and take care of that tonight.”
The Huskers finished 19-1 in Big Ten play, two matches ahead of second-place Wisconsin and four matches clear of Penn State and Purdue in third place.
“I’m extremely proud,” Cook said. “That’s what I just told them, I said very few years does somebody win the conference by two games and we have to finish with Wisconsin and Minnesota on the road back-to-back; that’s not an easy finish … To win it by two games and to win it in the ninth week, I’m very proud of this group. Some days I don’t know how we do it, but we did it.”
Nebraska will find out its postseason path on Sunday during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on ESPN at 5 p.m. CT.