“I don’t think anybody deserves anything. I think at the end of the day it’s about what you earn.”
Those were Bekka Allick’s words ahead of the National Championship match, and boy did they ring true.
Since midseason, Nebraska looked like a team of destiny. It started with Volleyball Day in Nebraska and setting a world attendance record for a women’s sporting event. Then the Huskers went to Stanford and ended the program’s losing streak to the Cardinal, doing so in an impressive four-set victory. These Huskers snapped the streak against Wisconsin as well, toppling the Badgers in an epic five-set match to claim the top spot in the rankings.
Nebraska went on to win its first outright Big Ten title since 2016, finishing the regular season 28-1 (including a season sweep of Penn State) to earn the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Big Red took care of business at the Devaney Center, dropping just one set in four matches en route to booking a trip to Tampa for the Final Four.
A sea of red followed the Huskers to Florida, packing Amalie Arena to watch their team sweep Pittsburgh in one of its best performances of the season. Meanwhile, old archrival Texas took down new rival Wisconsin to set up the third title match meeting between the two volleyball powers.
Everyone knows how that went at this point. Texas certainly earned the victory. I can’t recall seeing anything like the absolute heater the Longhorns went on from the service line in the Final Four. Twenty-three aces against the two teams that spent all season at the top of the polls is unheard of, but to accomplish that with just 15 errors doesn’t seem like it should be possible.
Nebraska looked like the team of destiny for much of the season, but as Coach John Cook put it in the story linked above, Texas seemed to wrestle that moniker away once it managed to fend off match point and rally to win against Tennessee in the regional semifinals. The Longhorns start slow this season, but by the time Texas arrived in Tampa, it was firing on all cylinders.
This season for Nebraska deserved a better ending, but like Allick said, all that matters is what you earn. The only thing Nebraska earned on Sunday with its passing execution (or lack thereof) is a 0-3 loss.
Nebraska only had two truly bad days all season — fewer than any other team in the country. Unfortunately for the Huskers, one of them happened at the absolute worst possible time.
“I think we know that we weren’t playing our best volleyball, and that’s sports,” Merritt Beason said. “You’re not going to play your best every single day and it sucks that we didn’t play our best today. It sucks. But that’s how sports go. Going into the match we all were 110% confident that we were going to win. There was no doubt in any of our minds. We came in with tons of confidence. You have to give them credit because they played an excellent match and they executed really, really well.”
According to Laney Choboy, they didn’t say much in the locker room after the loss, but there were plenty of tears. That was clear on Allick’s face when she showed up for the post-match press conference.
“How I feel right now is that’s the price you pay for caring,” Allick said.
These Huskers certainly did care. While the match didn’t go their way, effort was not an issue. At one point in the third set, Harper Murray crashed into the media table next to me chasing after a shanked pass. She kept the ball alive and Choboy was right behind her, pulling her up off the table before sprinting back into the play. Texas ended up winning the point despite the incredible hustle by the Huskers, an encapsulation of the entire match.
“I think all year we talked about how this team is special just because of how much drive and competitiveness we had, and I think that stays true,” Lexi Rodriguez said. “This team was very special, and we worked extremely hard for one another. And until that last point, this entire season we were playing for the person next to us and playing for the 14 girls who put in so much work this year. And I think that’s going to be something special about us next year because it’s not just going to go away; it’s going to stick with us.”
Beason clearly took part in the locker room outpouring of emotion, but the waterworks didn’t start up again during her turn in front of the cameras until the Florida transfer and team captain was asked to sum up her first year in Lincoln.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Beason said, fighting back tears. “I told the team in the locker room that this team is so special. There are 14 girls that are obviously great volleyball players but they’re even better people, and you don’t find that. You don’t find the relationships that we have on our team that is 14 deep. You might have a really good best friend on the team, you might have a few that are always there for you, but you don’t find 14 girls that are there for you through thick and thin. Obviously it sucks right now to be in this position, but I’m just so grateful to be here and grateful to be a part of this team because it was so special.”
Both Bergen Reilly and Andi Jackson highlighted the relationships they developed as the thing they’ll remember most about this team and this season as well.
Allick and Murray both said they expect the loss to stick with them for a long time. Rodriguez confirmed the notion, saying the runner=up finish in 2021 is still with her to this day. The Huskers will get some time off now to decompress, but Reilly said they’ll have to lift their heads at some point and learn from it. The Huskers plan to use the loss as fuel.
“We now all have the experience of what it feels like to lose in a national championship, and as soon as we can get back into the gym I’m sure that will be a topic of conversation every single day,” Beason said.
With no seniors on the roster, Nebraska will have a chance to run it back next season, but regardless of roster composition each team is its own entity. No two years are exactly the same, and on Monday we saw two reserves — sophomore outside hitter Hayden Kubik and redshirt opposite hitter Caroline Jurevicius — enter their names into the transfer portal.
Despite the attrition, Nebraska is set to return all of its starters — including four freshmen who made it as far as a college volleyball player can in their first season. First-team All-Americans Rodriguez and Beason are the team’s stars and its leaders, and the other upperclassmen play key roles as well (a healthy season in 2024 for Lindsay Krause would provide a big boost), but what that freshman class showed this year indicates the future is bright for the Husker program, next year and beyond.
“It was huge for our careers going forward,” Reilly said. “Not a lot of freshmen can say they made it this far, so we’re going to use what we learned this tournament and take it into the next three years of college.”
Oh, and about those three years? Murray has a message for Husker nation.
“I think we’re going to win three national championships the next three years.”