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Batenhorst and Balance Boost Nebraska Past Florida State into Sweet 16

December 04, 2021

With so many freshmen playing big roles, this season has been one of growth for Nebraska. On Saturday night, outside hitter Ally Batenhorst showed just how much she’s grown with one of her best performances of the season.

Batenhorst opened conference play as one of Nebraska’s starting outside hitters, but midway through Big Ten play Coach John Cook inserted Lexi Sun and slid Batenhorst to the bench. Cook went back to the freshman for the NCAA Tournament, and after a quiet first match against Campbell she made some noise on Saturday.

Batenhorst finished with 11 kills on .308 hitting as the 10th-seeded Huskers swept Florida State 25-20, 25-22, 25-17.

“I mentally have come a long way,” Batenhorst said. “Initially, whenever I would start, I came in a little bit more tentative and felt like as the season went on, I kept working hard. But things changed, obviously, and I worked through it and developed a mindset where I wasn’t going to worry about anything — just go for it and go with full confidence.”

Batenhorst was part of a balanced attack as Madi Kubik led the way with 12 kills and 15 digs, though six errors knocked her hitting percentage down to .140. Lindsay Krause added eight kills and four blocks on the right side.

The middles combined for 19 kills as well as Lauren Stivrins (10 kills, .429 hitting, four blocks) and Kayla Caffey (nine kills, .318 hitting, five blocks) played a big role in the final match of the season at the Devaney Center (attendance: 7,955).

“We have to be balanced,” Cook said. “Nicklin [Hames] did a really good job of getting everybody involved tonight. And I mean, Ally could have had a lot more sets, but she wasn’t in the front some of those games. I think she only got through there one or two times, so she wasn’t up there that much. I thought sets to the middle were good, and Krause got a lot of swings, so it’s good. And Nicklin got three kills and that’s her goal — a kill a game.”

Nebraska hit .262 with 54 kills as a team. Hames orchestrated the attack with 39 assists and 12 digs.

Lexi Rodriguez led the Huskers with 18 digs and chipped in six assists while Keonilei Akana added 10 digs. The Huskers recorded 71 digs and 9.5 blocks in three sets to hold Florida State to .122 hitting and just 31 kills. Kenzie Knuckles accounted for three of Nebraska four aces.

“I thought we did a nice job tonight,” Cook said. “We took care of business, and we did some really good things tonight. I thought Florida State served really tough. They had a couple servers that were really giving us a hard time that we did not see on video, so we made adjustments in the game. They are a solid team, and I thought we made enough runs and played well enough to break all three games open and win 3-0. So good job by the Huskers on that.”

Knuckles got the night started with an ace on the first rally, sparking a 4-2 Huskers start. Florida State scored four in a row to take the lead, but the Huskers regained it soon after at 10-8 with a 3-0 run.

Nebraska led the rest of the way, creating some separation at 16-11 with a 6-1 run then delivering the knockout blow with a 5-1 run to take a 23-16 lead. Florida State extended the match a few more rallies, but Kubik finally finished it off with a kill on a well-executed play out of a timeout.

Nebraska hit .294. Kubik led the way with seven kills, but she also had three of the team’s four attack errors. Batenhorst added six kills on nine errorless swings. The Huskers held the Seminoles to .171 hitting as all four of their errors came on Nebraska blocks.

Nebraska used a 5-0 run early in set two to take a 7-2 lead. After a 4-0 Florida State run cut the deficit to one, the Huskers responded with four straight of their own and led the rest of the way. Florida State cut it to two a couple of times but could get no closer.

Nebraska used a 6-2 stretch to pull ahead 18-12 and fended off a couple come-back attempts from the Seminoles late as Krause delivered the winner on Nebraska’s third set point attempt.

Nebraska’s hitting percentage slipped to .157 as the Huskers had nine attack errors, but they held the Seminoles to .048 and just eight kills.

Florida State won four of the first five rallies to start the third set, but the lead didn’t last long. Nebraska ripped off a 9-1 run to take a 10-5 lead. The Seminoles cut the deficit to two twice but couldn’t get over the hump as Nebraska took control with a 6-1 run that made the score 19-12. The Huskers earned match point at 24-15, and after the Seminoles won two points Caffey finally finished it off with a kill.

Nebraska hit .349 with 18 kills and held Florida State to .150. The middles had five kills apiece in game three and Hames had three kills herself on setter dumps.

After the Huskers celebrated the final point, they brought back the victory lap, running around the arena and high-giving fans to recognize their support.

“We were cheering and saying, ‘Good game,’ and we’re like, ‘we could do the run around because last year we didn’t get to do it,’” Hames said. “So it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing. And it’s always just kind of us giving back to the fans. They support us through everything, through this long season, and they’ve been there. So our trainer probably had a little freakout that we’re high-fiving everyone. We all washed our hands and had hand sanitizer, but it’s always really cool to be able to connect with them a little bit at the end of the season.”

With the win, the Huskers will head to Austin to compete in the regional round for the 10th straight season. Unseeded Illinois knocked off No. 7 Kentucky in the second round, so the Huskers will face the Illini for the third time this season. The two regular-season meetings were both Nebraska sweeps.

“It will be a little bit easier to prepare for them, but I saw them doing some things today thatl we haven’t seen before,” Cook said. “So we’ll always prepare really hard and well, but it’s gonna be a great match. That’s a big win for them. They’re going to be feeling it.”

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