Nebraska’s practice gym has been filled with youthful energy as the Huskers’ five freshman early-enrollees have made their presence felt, but they aren’t the only newcomers on the team.
Florida transfer Merritt Beason, an opposite hitter who spent her first two seasons in Gainesville, has fit right in as well.
“It feels like she’s been here for two years already,” Coach John Cook said. “It’s been a great transition. I think she’s really connected. She lives with Lindsay Krause which has been really, really helpful for her to integrate in because Lindsay’s involved in the community, she does stuff with the team. So it’s been a great transition for Merritt, and there are two guys on the football team from Florida, so she knows knows those guys.”
The biggest adjustment the Alabama native has had to make is getting used to the weather after moving to Nebraska in January, though she’s received a little help from an unlikely source.
“It’s awesome, I love it,” Beason said. “I had to get adjusted to the cold. I had to get ‘learning how to drive in the snow’ lessons from Jay-Rey, but I’m loving it so far.
Jay-Rey, of course, is assistant coach Jaylen Reyes — “Ironic, the Hawaii guy, right?”
As for the adjustment to Nebraska volleyball, Beason said it’s gone as perfectly as she could have hoped.
“It’s been really smooth sailing so far,” Beason said. “I think it definitely helps that we are young and that the juniors are the oldest girls on the team, but the freshmen are a fun group but they’re also very dedicated and you couldn’t even tell that they were freshmen. So I think the upperclassmen and those that have been here longer have welcomed us really, really easily and they made that transition easy for all of us. And so the freshmen coming in and me coming in, we just felt welcomed, which I thought allowed our team chemistry to build from the ground up and it’s been really cool so far.”
The beach season helped fast-track that chemistry a bit with the two-on-two competition (freshman outside hitter Harper Murray was Beason’s partner) and the trips the team made.
“It was really fun just to kind of get away from indoor a little bit,” Beason said. “There are so many things in beach that are way different than indoor. For example, there are only two of you, so learning how to work with someone else just one on one; there aren’t five other people on the court with you. Harper and I were partners and so I got to learn a lot about Harper and learn kind of how she works and what was going to work best for us. So it was super fun, fun to be outside, fun to be in warm weather. I loved it.”
Murray spoke highly of Beason’s impact on her personally late in the spring.
“Merritt was a great beach partner for me,” Murray said. “She’s a very calm and competent person and I think that she was one of the people that’s helped me give grace to myself. So I’m very lucky that I have her on the court with me because she’s a very good teammate, good leader.”
The beach season included a return to Beason’s home state of Alabama as the Huskers participated in the BadgerRam Beach Bash in Gulf Shores, Alabama, a four-hour drive from Beason’s hometown of Gardendale (just north of Birmingham).
“My grandparents, cousins, my parents, all of them got to come,” Beason said. “So it was really cool.”
The Huskers are back inside now at the Devaney Center, putting in work on the practice floor and preparing for their spring exhibition against Wichita State in Central City. Beason said she’s liked what she’s seen thus far as she’s learned what it means to be a part of the Nebraska volleyball program.
“I think the biggest thing that has stood out to me is just the level of competition in the gym, day in and day out,” Beason said. “How hard those girls go each and every day, and the coaches, how hard they push us. It’s been really cool to see and to be a part of. So I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a challenge but it was something that I noticed from the start that I was like, ‘Wow, this is really special.’”
Beason said she’s already seen improvement in her game across the board after just a few months in Lincoln, something that should excite Nebraska fans considering she’s coming off an All-SEC season at Florida that saw her average 3.35 kills per set on .261 hitting and record a team-high 38 services aces for the SEC co-champion Gators.
“I’ve already gotten better at every single skill I think,” Beason said. “Obviously I’ve been in college volleyball before, but I think just learning how things are here at Nebraska and changing and making those little tweaks, I’ve already seen a big difference. One skill in particular probably will be blocking just because it’s different here from how I’ve been taught before, but like I said I’ve already improved so much in each aspect of my game. So I just see it continuing on that trend.”
A big part of that improvement has been Cook himself, who is very involved and hands-on with the training at Nebraska. She said she’s really clicked with Cook’s style of coaching.
“I love how hard he pushes us, but he also is very encouraging when he needs to be,” Beason said. “So I think that he has found the perfect balance between being able to get the best out of girls while also encouraging them at the same time. I know for me, that’s really special to be a part of, so that would definitely be my favorite.”
While the two have a strong connection now, their relationship began with something of a misunderstanding that has become an inside joke. Beason designed her own logo, playing off her initials, MB, and her number, 13. Cook looked at the logo and thought it read MB3 (the B doubles as the 13 in the logo), so that’s what he called her for quite some time as Beason didn’t want to correct him.
However, he’s since learned the truth and even asked Beason to design the team’s logo for its upcoming international trip to Brazil using what she learned in a graphic design class in high school.
The Huskers won’t depart for Brazil until the end of May, however. First Nebraska fans will get their first indoor look at Beason in a Husker jersey on May 29 in the spring exhibition.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.