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Freshman Pins Power No. 10 Nebraska Past No. 2 Texas in Regional Final

December 12, 2021

The best recruiting class in Nebraska history produced three first-year starters in Lexi Rodriguez, Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst.

Rodriguez was a rock all season, earning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, but the other two faced their fair share of struggles including multiple benchings. Even so, John Cook went back to the freshmen at the pins for the NCAA Tournament and stuck with them.

On Saturday night, they rewarded that trust, combining for 28 kills on .444 hitting as the No. 10 Huskers upset No. 2 Texas in Austin, beating the Longhorns in four sets and avenging their loss in the 2020-21 regional final in Omaha less than eight months ago.

Nebraska beat Texas 25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21. The Huskers hit .259 behind 15 kills apiece from Madi Kubik and Batenhorst. Krause added 13 kills on .500 hitting and five blocks. Nicklin Hames recorded another double-double with 43 assists and 13 digs while adding three kills on three swings.

The Huskers held the high-powered Texas attack to .250, nearly 100 points below its season average. Rodriguez posted a match-high 10 digs, twice that of Texas’ leader. Texas star outside hitters Logan Eggleston and Skylar Fields finished with 20 kills apiece, but the rets of the Longhorns combined for just nine kills.

The serve and pass game played a big part in the result as Nebraska finished with nine aces and eight errors while the Longhorns misfired 14 times and notched just six aces. Keonilei Akana served a career-high seven aces by herself.

Hames earned Austin Region Most Outstanding Player honors. Kubik and Krause joined her on the all-tournament team along with Washington’s Samantha Drechsel and Texas’ Eggleston, Fields and Brionne Butler.

Kubik got off to a rough start, misfiring on her first three swings to give the Longhorns a 3-1 lead out of the gates. The Huskers settled in, however, and used a 3-0 run to to take the lead at 5-4. After a couple ties, the Huskers scored two in a row to pull ahead again, then used a 4-0 run to create some separation at 14-9.

Krause celebrated her 19th birthday by converting her first four swings into kills. Eggleston finally interrupted the run with a kill, but the Huskers fired back with a 3-0 run including back-to-back aces from Akana.

Three straight Nebraska errors opened the door for Texas to get back in it, but the Huskers slammed it shut again with a 4-0 run including three kills by Batenhorst. Texas made a late run, but it was too late to change the outcome.

The Huskers hit .265. Kubik led the way with five kills and hit over .300 the rest of the set after the error-filled start. Batenhorst and Kubik had four kills apiece. Eggleston got loose for six kills on .333 hitting, but the Huskers held everyone else in check as Texas hit .125.

The second set featured 10 ties and a couple of lead changes in the first 22 rallies, but then Nebraska took over. With Rodriguez at the service line, the Huskers ripped off eight straight points. Krause had two kills and two block assists during the run as Nebraska pulled ahead 19-11. Jerritt Elliott made a setter change during the run as well, sending Utah transfer Saige Ka’aha’aina-Torres in to replace All-American Jhenna Gabriel.

The tide shifted after that, however. The teams traded sideouts, then Texas put together a 10-2 run to climb all the way back, tying it up at 22-all. The comeback fizzled out, however, thanks to a pair of Texas service errors, and a terrific serve from Knuckles produced an overpass which Kayla Caffey terminated to give the Huskers a 2-0 match lead.

Texas hit .314 in the second set behind six more kills from Eggleston and six from Skylar Fields, but Nebraska hit .303 and had a 7-3 edge in service points.

Unlike the first two, the third set was tight from start to finish with 11 ties and five lead changes. Neither team led by more than three at any point.

Nebraska used a 3-0 run including two Akana aces to break a 14-all tie, then pulled ahead by three again at 19-16. Texas refused to go away, however, chipping away at the lead until they surged ahead and earned set point with a 5-1 run. Texas misfired from the service line again, but the Longhorns blocked Krause on the next point to win the set and extend the match.

Texas hit .300 while holding Nebraska to .118 thanks to seven blocks. Six Longhorn service errors allowed the Huskers to hang around.

Nebraska won three of the first four rallies in the fourth set, including back-to-back kills from Kubik, and the Huskers played with the lead most of the way. Texas tied it up at 7-7 and then again at 12-12 but never managed to get over the hump. The Huskers responded to the second push with an 8-0 run served by Kubik. The junior outside hitter had two kills and an ace during the run while Batenhorst notched three straight kills at one point.

After trading sideouts, the Longhorns made one last push with a 6-0 run that cut the deficit to two at 21-19, but the Huskers held firm and responded with a kill from Batenhorst and a block from Caffey and Krause. They traded sideouts the rest of the way and Krause delivered the match-point kill.

Nebraska hit .353 with 17 kills and out-blocked Texas four to two. The Longhorns hit .240 with 11 kills. Batenhorst had six kills in the fourth, Kubik had five and Krause added four.

Nebraska was the only team to pull a seed-line upset in the regional finals. The Huskers will face No. 3 Pittsburgh in the Final Four. The Panthers beat No. 6 Purdue 25-20, 28-30, 25-20, 25-15 behind Leketo Member-Meneh’s 21 kills on .383 hitting.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 Louisville beat No. 8 Georgia Tech in four sets while No. 4 Wisconsin swept No. 12 Minnesota.

The Badgers and Cardinals will face off at 6 p.m. CT in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday. The Huskers and Panthers will follow at 8:30 p.m.

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