No. 1 Nebraska made short work of Maryland at the Devaney Center Friday night to improve to 20-0, matching the start of the 2008 squad the went on to finish as the national runner-up.
The Cornhuskers (11-0 Big Ten) got off to great starts in sets two and the and improved throughout the night in a 25-19, 25-17, 25-8 victory that lasted just 80 minutes.
“It was a nice win,” Coach John Cook said. “We were a little bit sloppy games one and two. It took us a while to adjust to Maryland a little bit, we made some errors and I thought we kind of just lost a little focus in game two, but then they really responded well in game three and played a really, really nice game.”
Harper Murray picked up where she left off in game five against Wisconsin, putting up a match-high 16 kills on .433 hitting plus three blocks and an ace.
“I just felt like I had to prove myself after Wisconsin, and Bergen did a great job of getting my confidence high when I needed to,” Murray said. “So I think just coming back and bouncing back from Wisconsin, I just needed to prove to myself and my team …I felt like I didn’t give everything I could have in the Wisconsin match, so just coming out and trying to do my best in this game.”
Bergen Reilly recorded a double-double with 34 assists, a match-high 10 digs, three kills (on four attacks) and two blocks. Merritt Beason just missed out on her own double-double with 10 kills on .381 hitting, nine digs, two aces and two blocks. Andi Jackson added eight kills on .636 hitting and four blocks. Nebraska out-dug Maryland by 19 and finished with 23 more kills.
“I think overall we just played pretty clean,” Reilly said. “We had really good passing; I didn’t have to move a lot, honestly,” Reilly said. “And then we just got a lot of pass-set-kills and I think that that was really big for us.”
Nebraska hit .349 and held Maryland to .023 while serving five aces and seven errors, the first match with single-digit miscues since the Minnesota win on Sept. 24. Five of those seven errors came in the first set as Nebraska cleaned things up after a chat between sets one and two.
“I just reminded them we had a great week of serving, maybe one of the best weeks I’ve ever seen, and we were working on things and we were really trying to serve really tough and they did awesome,” Cook said. “And then we get in the game, and it’s not like we were missing by this much. We were in the bottom of the net, we were missing 25 feet out. But that’s what good serving can do to teams. You just put pressure on them over and over and over and it starts wearing on them and I think you kind of saw a result of that because we started serving really well in game two and really well in game three.”
Nebraska’s defense was locked in from the opening serve, but a slow offensive start allowed the Terrapins to hang around until a 7-1 spurt by the Huskers broke an 8-all tie. The Huskers maintained control the rest of the way, building the lead up to seven at one point before Beason closed it out on Nebraska’s second set-point opportunity.
Nebraska hit .400 behind Beason’s five kills on nine errorless swings and Reilly’s 15 assists. The Huskers didn’t record any blocks, but their defense forced a lot of tips, especially early on, as the Terrapins hit .134.
Nebraska continued to roll in the second set, winning six of the first seven rallies then using a 5-1 run to extend its lead to eight at 12-4. Cook sent Hayden Kuibik in for Murray with the Huskers leading 17-10 and Nebraska stretched the advantage out to 10 at 24-14. The Terps saved three set points before Cook went back to Murray, and the freshman closed it out with her 11th kill of the night.
Murray totaled six kills in the set despite spending a good chunk of it on the bench. Nebraska only hit .176 as a team but held Maryland to .059.
“She’s got a lot of shots, so that’s what makes her hard to defend,” Cook said of Murray. “She can hit high and hard, she can go line, she can cut it, she tips, she rolls, she’s got an off-speed, she’s got an off-speed into the top of the block. So that’s just what makes her really hard to defend, and that’s what she’s been doing is she doesn’t just hit the same shot every time.”
The Huskers set the tone from the start again in set three as Nebraska scored the first eight points with Reilly at the service line. After three blocks in the first two sets combined, the Huskers stuffed the Terps four times in the first 14 rallies of game three. Beason served a 5-0 run including an ace to make it 18-4 and the Huskers cruised to the finish from there.
“Coach talks to us about that a lot, we have to establish ourselves early in the game and having Bergen serve first is obviously a great decision for us just because she has one of the best serves on the team,” Murray said. “Coming out and serving aggressive and just really establishing it from the beginning is important for us and that’s what we did in the third set.”
Murray tacked on five more kills as Nebraska hit .588 as a team and held Maryland to minus-.167 with just five kills and nine errors. The Huskers recorded 5.5 of their 8.5 blocks in the third set.
The Huskers will return to action on Saturday night as Rutgers visits the Devaney Center, fresh off a five-et win at Iowa. First serve is set for 7:30 p.m. on Big Ten Plus.