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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

No. 4 Huskers Drop a Set But Still Top No. 16 Creighton

September 06, 2023

No. 4 Nebraska dropped its first set of the season but still improved to 6-0, taking down No. 16 Creighton 3-1 on Wednesday night to claim the unofficial state championship.

“One of our goals was state champs and I said on the TV interview it’s becoming kind of a big deal to be able to win a state championship with three great programs in Division I in Nebraska,” Coach John Cook said. “First of all, Creighton is a very good team and that setter [Kendra Wait] should be a first-team All-American … 

“I’m very impressed with how hard they played. They could have easily just packed it in the third game but they just got better as the match went on and we had to really raise it up in game four to win that win that match. So much respect for Creighton as always and those guys played really hard.”

The Huskers took down their in-state rival 25-9, 25-13, 23-25, 25-20 in front of a Devaney Center record 8,656 fans, improving to 22-0 all-time in the in-state matchup.

“I think after playing like the stadium match and having 92,000 people and then coming here, it honestly didn’t feel that different,” freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy said. “So I think that our fans are just crazy every single game.”

Creighton was without reigning Big East Player of the Year and star outside hitter Norah Sis because of an abdominal muscle strain. Sis averaged 4.13 kills and 3.35 digs per set as a six-rotation player in Creighton’s first six matches.

The Sis-less Jays became the first team to hit over .100 against Nebraska this season, though just barely at .109. Creighton hit .305 with 10 blocks and six aces.

Merritt Beason came on strong late to post a season-high 17 kills on .216 hitting. Lindsay Krause built on a strong Kansas State match with an even stronger performance against the Jays, finishing with 12 kills on .478 hitting. Harper Murray added 10 kills on .280 hitting. Bekka Allick chipped in seven kills on .600 hitting while Andi Jackson posted six blocks and five kills.

Bergen Reilly recorded her second straight double-double with 42 assists, 11 digs and two aces. Lexi Rodriguez led the defense with a match-high 14 digs. Choboy added 10 digs and three aces.

Lindsay Krause hits over the Creighton block. Photo by John Peterson.

“I think that we all kind of went up a step, every single one on the court,” Krause said. “Whether defense, blocking, hitting, serving, I think we all went up a notch and we knew that we had to in order to play a competitive team like Creighton. I think Creighton’s the first top-25 team that we’ve played so far and we’ve talked about how going forward it’s only going to get tougher, so I think we all kind of took a step back and realized how we all have to up our game. Getting really ready for conference and going forward, we all have to take that step and I think we all did a really great job tonight.”

Freshman outside hitter Destiny Ndam-Simpson, an Omaha Westside graduate, stepped up with Sis sidelined, leading the Bluejays with 13 kills on .242 hitting while Wait added 32 assists, eight digs and five kills.

“Destiny did a great job,” Cook said. “I think the big thing is they may have missed [Sis’] passing because Ava Martin had to go all the way around; she usually gets subbed out of the back row. But it doesn’t matter, Kendra Wait makes players better around her; she’s very gifted in how she does that. It changed things; we prepared for her. They had a different lineup, they moved their hitters around, so everything was a little bit different … 

“But we’ve got a lot of things we can get better at and and we’ve got to learn how to finish matches when we have a team down. I just thought we started making a bunch of errors in game three and we’ve got to learn from that.”

The teams went back and forth early in set one, but Choboy capped a 6-0 Nebraska run with an ace to put the Huskers up 12-5, and it only got worse from there for the Bluejays. Creighton continued to rack up attack errors, both forced and unforced, as Nebraska rolled to a blowout win.

Nebraska hit .190 in the first set but had nearly as many blocks (six) as kills (seven). The Huskers added three aces and held Creighton to minus-.261 hitting with 13 errors.

A cleaner start to set two gave the Bluejays a chance to hang around, but Nebraska eventually pulled away, outscoring the Jays 15-5 over the second half of the set to take a 2-0 lead at the intermission.

Nebraska only misfired one time in game two, hitting .429 with 16 kills as Reilly spread the ball around to all her hitters including Allick who had four kills on six swings.

The break seemed to do Creighton some good as the Bluejays settled down offensively and began to put pressure on the Huskers. The frame featured seven ties and three lead changes.

Leading 17-16, Creighton created some separation with a 4-1 run, drawing Nebraska’s first timeout of the evening. The Huskers regrouped and countered with a 5-1 run including back-to back Krause kills to cut the deficit to one, but the teams traded sideout kills from there as Creighton handed Nebraska its first set loss of the season.

“They started playing better and they were very low-error, and then we just got a little undisciplined,” Cook said. “It was a two-point game and we made about four hitting errors that they could have laid down and gone to sleep and wouldn’t have to do anything that we just gave them; they were just wild hits. So against a really good team, you do that, give them four easy points like that and a couple of missed serves, you’re going to lose.”

Creighton hit .355 while Nebraska hit .207 with more attack errors in game three (seven) than in the first two sets combined (four). Maggie Mendelson played the set in place of Allick, but she and Jackson combined for one swing and no kills. Krause and Beason notched five kills apiece, but it wasn’t enough.

Cook went back to Allick in the fourth set and the Huskers got off to a good start. Creighton used a 3-0 run to tie it up at 8-8, but the Huskers responded by winning nine of the next 12 rallies to build a six-point lead and cruised to the finish from there.

Beason took over in the fourth set with seven kills on 14 swings as Nebraska hit .333 as a team. Creighton hit .242.

Nebraska will return to the Devaney Center on Saturday to host Long Beach State, led by former Husker assistant Tyler Hildebrand.

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