With a tweaked lineup, No. 5 Nebraska swept Lipscomb on Saturday night to improve to 2-0 in the season-opening Ameritas Players Challenge.
While the final score indicates an easy win — 25-10, 25-21, 25-16 — the Huskers faced their first bit of adversity against the Bisons, falling behind by six late in the second set. However, the Cornhuskers rallied to finish on a 12-2 run and provide a glimpse into what their practices have looked like, according to junior opposite hitter Merritt Beason.
“We play like that every single day in practice,” Beason said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re struggling in a drill, maybe we’re not playing very well that day, whatever, we find a way to get out of it. So I think it’s really cool for you guys to see that now and, obviously, we would like to work on not getting so far in a rut, but we do pull out of it and I think that shows a lot about our team.
“We showed a lot of grit and we just fight for each other, and I think that’s really special. So I think that’s what you saw out there was fighting for each other and none of us wanted to lose that set for the person next to us.”
Junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson made their first starts, replacing junior Lindsay Krause and sophomore Bekka Allick after the latter two started on Friday, and sophomore Maisie Boesiger also made her season debut as a serving sub.
“Basically it was the same as yesterday, we just put in Andi in a spot and Ally in a spot,” Coach John Cook said. “We’re training all those guys to do that, so it was smooth. They’re used to it. We played really good volleyball except for that stretch in game two, but you’ve got to give Lipscomb credit. They competed really hard and served some really tough balls and made some great swings.”
Nebraska hit .366 as freshman Bergen Reilly made her second start at setter, finishing with 29 assists, nine digs, two kills, one block and one ace. Beason was Reilly’s favorite target, finishing with a match-high 11 kills on .292 hitting, five digs and three blocks. Cook said the game plan was to feed Beason with how much Lipscomb was focusing on taking away the left sides, and the freshman executed the plan well with 24 of her 61 sets going to the team captain.
Freshman Harper Murray followed up her strong debut with another big performance, finishing with 10 kills on .389 hitting, seven digs and three aces. Jackson added eight kills on .700 hitting and four blocks in her first start.
“I would say I’m getting super comfortable on the court, and I think the team has played a huge role in helping me become more comfortable,” Jackson said. “They’re all super supportive and when I get out there, obviously it’s a little nerve-wracking playing in front of 8,000 people, but having them, you play free.”
Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez led the defensive effort with a team-high 10 digs, surpassing 1,000 for her career in the process.
Lipscomb struck first in set one with a kill by Jada DiVita, but it was all Huskers the rest of the way as Nebraska dominated the first set. The Cornhuskers hit .550 as Jackson went four-for-four and Murray went four-for-five. Defensively, Nebraska held Lipscomb to .000, surrendering just six kills.
After cruising through the first set, the Huskers found a much bigger challenge waiting for them in game two. Lipscomb used a 5-1 run early on to pull ahead then continued to apply pressure, extending its lead all the way out to six at 18-12.
The teams traded kills, then Nebraska delivered a knock-out blow to complete the comeback, scoring 11 of the last 12 points to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission. Murray served a 9-0 run to end the set with Batenhorst notching three straight kills to end it.
“She’s been working really hard on her serve,” Cook said of Murray. “Yesterday, she had a couple of misses but today she was thumping it really good. Harper showed she can really focus and get it done when she needs to. That was a big step for her. But I know she wants to be a great server and works hard on it.”
Despite the early struggles, Nebraska still hit .343 in the set and held Lipscomb to .067. Beason and Batenhorst recorded four kills apiece.
The third set saw five ties and three lead changes in the first 11 rallies, and Lipscomb continued to hang around for a bit after that, but a 5-1 surge including three kills from Beason put the Huskers in control and they continued to extend their lead the rest of the way.
With Nebraska leading 19-13, Krause checked in for the first time, replacing Murray, and she terminated both of her swings as Nebraska closed out the sweep. Lincoln East graduate and Lipscomb freshman middle blocker Brooklyn Fuchs also checked in for the final two rallies, making her collegiate debut in her home town.
Nebraska hit .343 in the third led by Beason’s four kills and held the Bisons to .067.
Nebraska will close out the weekend against SMU on Sunday afternoon. After sweeping Lipscomb on Friday night, SMU fell 3-1 to Utah State on Saturday afternoon. Naya Shime led SMU with 17 kills and 14 digs against the Aggies.
First serve on Sunday is set for 2 p.m. CT on B1G+.