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Padding the Stats: Husker Newcomers Show Off Talent in Spring Match

May 03, 2023

Coaching responsibilities prevented me from attending Nebraska volleyball’s spring exhibition in Central City on Saturday, but thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to watch the match in its entirety and you’re getting my delayed thoughts here.

Shoutout to Erin Sorensen for filling in for me; you can read her coverage from the Bison Activity Dome here. The Huskers swept Wichita State (25-20, 25-21, 25-21) with a number of players standing out. I’m going to go position by position and share some highlights from what I saw, with an emphasis on a few of the talented newcomers.

Outside and Opposite Hitters

We have to start with the pins, where freshman Harper Murray stole the show. While the starting lineup for a spring exhibition isn’t a guarantee of who will start come the fall, it is a data point worth considering and Cook went with Murray (who played six rotations) and Lindsay Krause as the two left sides.

Murray played the first two sets, finishing with a match-high 12 kills on 23 attempts with just three errors (a .391 hitting percentage). She is a terrific athlete with a powerful swing that produced a number of highlight-reel kills on Saturday.

Here’s a look at what she’s capable of.

“She’s just been really consistent stat-wise in practice every day,” Coach John Cook said after the match. “She’s been performing at a high level very consistently and she’s been passing well. If you’re going to play six rotations you’ve got to be able to pass. She’s done a great job managing all the skills and as you can see, she can get some big kills. One thing I wasn’t sure about was her blocking. High school kids when they get to us, they have no clue how to block because they’re just athletes, but she did a really nice job tonight. She pretty much shut down their best player; she was matched up on her and did a really good job. As you can see, she she can fly.”

If there’s one thing Murray will want to improve on coming out of the match, it’s her serve receive as she was dinged for three reception errors on the stat sheet.

Krause had a quiet day attacking wise with just four kills on .133 hitting, but she’s the most proven of Nebraska’s returning pins. She still isn’t playing six rotations, but she did serve and notched three aces with just one error (she has one ace and five errors in 64 career matches that actually count), looking terrific overall from the service line.

Ally Batenhorst and Hayden Kubik replaced Murray and Krause in the third set. Kubik struggled a bit (one kill and two errors on four swings) but Batenhorst looked terrific, finishing with five kills on .364 hitting while passing fairly well in her one set of work. 

One thing that caught my eye was that Batenhorst’s contact point on her swing seemed to be higher than last year. She hasn’t always played as big as her 6-foot-5 frame might suggest during her time as a Husker because of the way she hit the ball, but she generated plenty of power and terminated at a high rate on Saturday.

The battle for those two starting outside hitters pots will rage on into the fall, and it should be fierce.

On the right side, Florida transfer Merritt Beason started and played six rotations in the first two sets. She struggled a bit, hitting into the block several times to the tune of five kills and four errors on 17 swings (.059 hitting), but Cook said afterward he thought Beason was a little nervous and may have been trying a bit too hard in her first match in front of the Husker faithful. She addressed the crowd after the match alongside Cook, which I found noteworthy on a team with no seniors.

Freshman Caroline Jurevicius played in the third set, putting down three kills with one error on six swings and adding two block assists to her stat line. She, too, has a live arm and plenty of athleticism.


Junior Kennedi Orr drew the start, but freshman Bergen Reilly played in the last two sets. Orr had 15 assists, two digs and a kill as Nebraska hit .256 in the first set. Reilly dished out 28 assists with six digs and a kill as Nebraska hit .308 and .406 in the last two sets.

“I thought they both did really well,” Cook said. “We were trying to go a little faster tempo and you can see when it all clicks, it looks really good. It’s hard to defend and I thought both of them, they did some really good things. They had their moments where they struggled a little bit. This is essentially their first match, their second scrimmage against somebody else. They both had a really good spring. They’re competing; it’s going to be a battle.”

I’m no setting expert, but I’d say Orr definitely got off to a rough start with the placement of many of her serves (though the passing played a part in that). However, I thought she settled in and found a bit of a rhythm later on in the set, and Cook has previously highlighted the progress she’s made since last season.

As for Reilly, it was a lot of fun to watch her run the offense. She already has a great connection with the middles (an area in which Nebraska struggled last season) and did a great job of making good choices and putting the ball on the money right on time consistently. We’ll have to see how her defense, blocking and serving progress between now and the start of the season, but I’d say her actual setting ability is game-ready right now.

“The great ones have things you can’t coach; it’s just in them,” Cook said. “She’s got a lot of work to do, but she’s got great instincts. Those aren’t things we’ve taught her. She just has a great feel. I can’t explain it, why some people have it and some people don’t, but she has a great feel and she just knows when to set things at the right time.”

Defensive Specialists

I don’t think I need to spend too many words on Lexi Rodriguez; I’m sure anybody reading this already knows how good she is. She played all three sets and recorded a match-high 12 digs. 

However, it was freshman Laney Choboy who stole the show in the back row while chipping in seven digs. Choboy played for Krause in the back row. Here’s a look at some of the spectacular plays she made.

“You guys saw how athletic she is,” Cook said. “I have never told a player this, I said ‘You could play a whole game and never touch the ball and you’re still worth three points,’ because of her energy and her belief in her teammates and her conviction that we’re going to win the next point. She just has that magnetic personality that is contagious and helps these guys believe, and then when she does make plays, it’s like times 10. You saw that play she made; who else is making that? That was unreal.”

Sophomore walk-on Maisie Boesiger played as a serving sub in all three sets.

Middle Blocker

Cook went with experience at middle blocker, starting sophomores Bekka Allick and Maggie Mendelson. Allick played all three sets while freshman Andi Jackson took Mendelson’s place in game three.

Allick was terrific with eight kills on 10 errorless swings and a match-high six blocks (including two solo). She also served without misfiring one time (something she’s been focusing on this offseason). Mendelson had some strong swings and finished with three kills and an error on eight attempts.

Game three belonged to Jackson, however, as she terminated on seven of her eight swings while chipping in a block assist, showcasing her incredible athleticism and power.

As dominant as Jackson may have looked in the match, Cook made sure to let everyone know she still has a long way to go.

“We can shut Andi down every day in practice because she hits the same shot all the time,” Cook said. “We’re trying to get her to be more creative. So she doesn’t do this in our gym what she did tonight.”

Cook’s quote about Jackson came as an answer about the freshmen overall and where he’s seen the most growth from that group throughout the spring. He said the key for the freshmen is “learning how to go hard every day and not rely on their athletic ability.”

If there’s anything the exhibition showed, it’s that Cook probably has more playable options than he’ll have rotation spots for, which is the best kind of problem a coach can have. Whoever takes the floor come August will certainly have earned it.

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