New coach, but same old story for hard-luck Huskers 

By Steve Beideck 

MINNEAPOLIS – Those things Nebraska worked all spring to avoid – turnovers, penalties and substitution infractions – ultimately left the Huskers to ponder an all-too-familiar result in their 2023 season opener. 

A 47-yard field goal by Dragan Kesich as time expired Thursday night gave Minnesota a 13-10, come-from-behind victory over the hard-luck Huskers before a crowd of 53,629 at Huntington Bank Stadium. 

Four turnovers by the Huskers, including three interceptions thrown by new quarterback Jeff Sims, were the toughest blows for the Nebraska faithful to take. Those mistakes left Nebraska with a fourth consecutive loss in a season opener and spoiled Matt Rhule’s debut as head coach. 

All those defeats came away from Memorial Stadium in Big Ten Conference games at Ohio State (2020), Illinois (2021) and Northwestern last season. That game with the Wildcats was a Northwestern home game that was played in Dublin, Ireland. Nebraska hasn’t won a season opener since a 35-21 victory over South Alabama on Aug. 31, 2019. 

The Huskers also were whistled for seven penalties totaling 55 yards. One of those penalties was a substitution infraction on the offense. The Huskers were also flagged for a disturbing signals penalty. 

While Sims, a transfer from Georgia Tech, finished as Nebraska’s leading rusher, the three interceptions at crucial junctures tarnished an otherwise decent first game in a Husker uniform. 

Sims ran the ball 19 times for 91 yards, with a long of 26. He also completed 11 of 19 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown. Despite the three interceptions, Sims finished with a quarterback rating of 94.1. 

Nebraska’s lone touchdown came on a play that seemed destined for disaster early in the third quarter. Sims handed the ball off to running back Anthony Grant, who went to his right before turning to throw the ball back to Sims. 

Fortunately for the Huskers the pass was a lateral that went behind Sims, who scooped it up after Grant’s toss went over his head. After picking up the ball, Sims threw it to the end zone where wide receiver Alex Bullock was standing by himself. 

The 34-yard pass was the first TD reception for the sophomore from Omaha Creighton Prep. Bullock was NU’s leading receiver with three catches for 56 yards. Receiver Marcus Washington also caught three passes for 31 yards. 

The touchdown play was set up by a 63-yard kickoff return by Rahmir Johnson to open the second half. It was a career long for the junior from New York City.

Nebraska’s defense had one of its best performances in recent years by limiting the Gophers to 251 total yards. That’s the fewest number of yards allowed since Nebraska held Maryland to 206 yards on Nov. 23, 2019. 

Minnesota, which now has won five consecutive games over the Huskers, took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 34-yard Kesich field goal. 

The Huskers were in position to tie the game or take a halftime lead in the final minutes of the first half. That drive was short-circuited by a false start penalty on Ethan Piper and the Sims interception from the 6-yard line with seven seconds remaining before the intermission. 

Freshman kicker Tristan Alvano gave Nebraska a 10-3 lead with the first field goal of his career, a 27-yard boot with 12:42 remaining in the game. After the teams traded three-and-outs, Nebraska was driving toward a potential game-clinching field goal when Grant fumbled after a 9-yard gain. 

It was the break Minnesota needed, and the Gophers tied the game with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Athan Kaliakmanis to Daniel Jackson on fourth-down with 2:32 remaining in regulation. Jackson managed to drag his back foot in the end zone before landing out of bounds. 

Nebraska had one last chance to put together a game-securing drive, but Sims threw his third interception of the game. That turnover eventually led to the game-winning field goal by Kesich.

Volleyball Day in Nebraska ‘Magical’ in Every Way

By Lincoln Arneal

John Cook’s cry count ended at five. 

During the historic Volleyball Day in Nebraska, the Nebraska coach got emotional seeing former players, taking in the crowd, enjoying the moment and reading a note at the pep rally from Kennedi Orr. The junior setter sent handwritten messages to all her teammates and coaches before the match. 

“The impossible will be possible,” Cook read through tears to the crowd of more than 1,000 people during a rally at the NU Coliseum. 

CE5A1830 800
John Cook, Head Coach

Emotions were elevated all day during the Huskers’ record-breaking day. The event, featuring Nebraska vs. Nebraska-Omaha with a prelim between Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State,  surpassed expectations – and records. Memorial Stadium was packed with 92,003 fans, setting a world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event. 

“Several times, I had to bite my lip to hold it together,” Cook said. “It’s been a very emotional day.”

The event was more than just about the volleyball on the court, which saw the Huskers sweep the Mavericks. The most successful high school coaches in state history were recognized. They highlighted members of the Omaha Supernovas, a professional volleyball team that kicks off its inaugural season next year. Three-time Olympic gold medalist Keri Walsh was on hand, and other United States national team members were honored. Charlie Baker, NCAA president, was in attendance, as was Tony Petitti, the Big Ten commissioner. 

The atmosphere was electric with fans clad in volleyball T-shirts. Thanks to name, image and likeness, or NIL, deals, many shirts featured the name and number of current Huskers. Many others wore special shirts to celebrate Volleyball Day, while many younger attendees in North Stadium represented their high school squads. 

Two fans show their support for the Nebraska volleyball team during Wednesday night’s Nebraska Volleyball Day game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. STAFF PHOTO BY JEFFREY Z. CARNEY

Lexi Rodriguez said the support and excitement around the match proved that women’s athletics are worthy of being supported. She said she realized the impact during the rally when a girl from North Dakota was selected to speak to the crowd and said her goal was to meet sophomore Bekka Allick, whose jersey she wore. 

“It’s so huge for little girls to get to see a woman sport and volleyball being played on this big of a stage and having so many people invest into it,” she said. “It’s huge because when you’re little, you have big dreams and goals. I think having this to look up to is something that a lot of little girls will kind of keep in the back of their mind when they’re pursuing the sport of volleyball.”

In one section of Memorial Stadium were almost 100 former Nebraska volleyball players, the largest-ever gathering of Huskers in program history. They mingled at a reunion Tuesday night and brought their families to watch the sport they helped build take center stage in the sporting world for one night. 

Andi Jackson said she was proud to be part of the historic event and thanked everyone who helped put it on. The freshman middle blocker was at a loss for words for how to describe her emotions. 

“Nebraska volleyball has a huge legacy so we have to give credit to the women who did it before us because we wouldn’t be here without him,” she said. “Just knowing that we hold that record and the amount of work that we have put into this, every girl on this team deserves it and I’m just really proud to be a part of it.”

For those not in the stadium, the match created a cultural touchstone for former athletes. Basketball superstar Magic Johnson tweeted out that the support of women’s athletics blew him away. Two-time WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson called the event “dope.” Even Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlyn Clark said she was speechless. 

The match was the top story on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” Wednesday night. It was a topic on national debate shows Thursday morning. The Huskers’ main and volleyball social media accounts received almost 29 million impressions. On BTN, 518,000 people tuned in as it was the most-watched match in network history and the second biggest audience on any network for a regular-season match. 

Volleyball Day in Nebraska didn’t just set a new standard for volleyball matches. Cook said it raised the bar for all Huskers athletic events. He’s never seen the Memorial Stadium crowd as fired up as it was on Wednesday night. 

B34I0816 800

“I hope we set a new standard at night for football games with our fans, what they can do and the energy they can bring,” Cook said. “The energy down there was unbelievable. It was a  magical night.”

After the match, Cook said he remembered watching the 1999 World Cup final between the United States and China, which attracted 90,185 fans in the Rose Bowl. He remembers how that moment was a spark for soccer in the country and fueled growth over the next decade. In Cook’s view, the difference was that they created the same buzz and excitement as that event for a regular season match, not a world championship. 

He hopes the match can also be inspirational and launch volleyball into the nation’s psyche. While the videos, event production and famous faces were an excellent addition, the critical part of the night was the action on the court. 

“It’s not about who’s throwing hot dogs and T-shirts,” Cook said. “It’s about what is going on on that volleyball court – the level of play, the athleticism, the type of athletes, student-athletes that we have that people can connect with, and they feel a part of. That’s what we’ve tried to do. 

“To be honest with you, we just did that in front of 92,000 people tonight. I think we played for the person in the highest seat on that east balcony. We were playing for those people up there, and I think they felt a part of it.”

In front of 92,003 fans, Huskers sweep Mavericks and then have a dance party

By Lincoln Arneal

Hitting errors were plentiful, serving was a bit erratic and the match resulted in a lopsided sweep. 

None of it mattered in the end. After No. 4 Nebraska earned a 25-14, 25-14, 25-13 victory over Nebraska-Omaha Wednesday evening at Memorial Stadium, the only thing that mattered was one number. 


The attendance for the first volleyball match played outdoors in a football stadium established a new world record for a women’s sporting event. It bettered the mark of 91,648 set last year in a Women’s Champion League soccer match between Barcelona and Wolfsburg. The crowd also established a record for Memorial Stadium, eclipsing the previous record of 91,585 for a football game against Miami in 2014. 

Oh, and it obliterated the record for a crowd to watch an NCAA volleyball match, bettering the old mark five times over. 

Nebraska’s Lexi Rodriguez (8) runs back toward Memorial Stadium’s volleyball court following a second-set break before sweeping UNO Wednesday night in Lincoln. STAFF PHOTO BY JEFFREY Z. CARNEY

Nebraska coach John Cook credited the leadership of Athletic Director Trev Alberts for believing in the possibility of the event and the crowd for proving NU president Ted Carter correct when he predicted a sellout in February when the event was announced. 

“There is a lot of satisfaction to know it’s not me, it’s a celebration of Nebraska volleyball, all the levels in the state,” Cook said. “We took a chance by playing in Memorial Stadium and to go for the record and break it. Now we make a statement to everybody else on how important volleyball is here and we want the record. We did it to the world. I don’t think anybody ever could have envisioned that when this whole thing started. It feels like a great accomplishment for this sport called volleyball, played by the women in Nebraska. It’s a state treasure, and we just proved it.”

A sell-out crowd watches Wednesday night’s Nebraska vs. UNO volleyball game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. STAFF PHOTO BY JEFFREY Z. CARNEY

The scene was set up earlier in the day when more than a thousand people showed up for a rally at the NU Coliseum, the former home of the volleyball program. Cook got emotional reading a note from junior setter Kennedi Orr to the crowd about how much the event meant to her. 

Cook said he probably cried five times during the day as he was caught up in the spectacle. He got emotional seeing Briana Holman, who he said he hadn’t seen since she left campus after the 2017 national championship. 

The crowd began to fill the stadium for the warm-up match, an exhibition between Wayne State and Nebraska-Kearney. The sun warmed up the court and drove fans to long lines for beer and water. 

Two fans show their support for the Nebraska volleyball team during Wednesday night’s Nebraska Volleyball Day game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. STAFF PHOTO BY JEFFREY Z. CARNEY

By the time the Huskers came out of the locker room and performed their own version of the Tunnel Walk, nearly every seat was packed, and people were standing 10 deep around the court. NU captains Merritt Beason and Lexi Rodriguez flanked Cook, walking on the red carpet. Beason had a straight face, focusing on the task at hand. Rodriguez, however, was grinning from ear to ear. 

“I was really trying to stay like in the moment, stay present and soak it all in. I was super excited,” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t just hold a serious face. I wanted to show everyone how happy I was and how excited I was.”

Nebraska-Omaha struggled to adapt to the wind and the scrappy Nebraska defense. The Mavericks committed 25 hitting errors to 18 kills and chalked up 11 service errors. 

However, despite the sloppy play, Nebraska-Omaha setter Olivia Curry said she was glad to be part of such a momentous night. 

“I think that that is the first game I’ve lost where I still left with a smile on my face because that experience was just truly amazing,” she said. 

The Huskers hit .262 for the night, with just 29 kills, five fewer than any total from the 2022 season. However, a wind out of the south impacted nearly every facet of the game. When the teams practiced on the court Tuesday evening, it came from the opposite direction. 

Cook said the Huskers’ beach volleyball experience helped them adjust to the conditions. 

“It was pretty windy out there and it was really tough,” he said. “Understanding how to play beach probably gave us an advantage tonight.” 

Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson might have benefitted from the wind. With passing a struggle, setter Bergen Reilly used short, quick sets to connect with Jackson as she recorded eight kills on just 12 attacks. 

After the match, Cook thanked the crowd for coming out and said only three things can shut down the Nebraska campus. 

“One, snow. Two, Covid. Three, Nebraska volleyball in Memorial Stadium,” he said. “So, students, you’re welcome.”

As music blared for a drone light show in the stadium’s northeast corner and fireworks went off,  the Huskers began hosting an impromptu dance party. 

The party was topped off by Laney Choboy doing a gymnastics tumbling run and Rodriguez busting out a solid Worm dance display. 

“I have some hidden talents, you know?” Rodriguez said. “I always wanted to do that in front of a crowd, so I thought it was time.”

Jackson said the dancing was a release after a long day of activities and trying to live up to the expectations of a big-time event. 

“We were telling each other to just soak it up but also lock-in,” Jackson said. “After we were locked in for three sets, we played our game, all the emotions came out, and we got to have our dance party.”

Magnitude of Volleyball Match Inside Memorial Stadium Hits Home for Huskers

By Lincoln Arneal

As Bekka Allick and Ally Batenhorst emerged from the tunnels in Memorial Stadium and onto the playing field on Monday, they began to freak out.

Their volleyball match in Memorial Stadium, just two days away, was starting to get real. The pair filmed a couple of TikTok videos and even tested out diving on the elevated court. 

“The fact that this is going to be a reality in a matter of 48 hours is insane,” Allick said. 

After months of hype and promotion, Nebraska will take the court against Nebraska-Omaha in Memorial Stadium at 7 p.m. Wayne State and Nebraska-Kearney will kick off the day with an exhibition match at 4:30 p.m. 

Allick said she’s been feeling grateful for the opportunity to play in the match and experiencing all the hubbub that surrounds it. She said NU coach John Cook has been prepping the team to be glad they get the opportunity. 

“We’ve had all kinds of athletes come through this legacy program,” Allick said. “Why didn’t this happen when Jordan Larson and Sarah Pavan were here? All of these amazing legends and it’s us. We were chosen to have this and (Cook) pushes this on us everyday. An ‘attitude of gratitude.’ We don’t know when this is gonna happen again, if ever.”

As part of the event, the Huskers will smash the attendance record for a regular-season match, which Wisconsin took from NU last year with 16,833 fans at the Kohl Center in Madison. Nebraska holds the record for most fans at an NCAA tournament match (18,755) when it played the Badgers in the 2021 championship match. 

NU will challenge for the record for largest women’s sporting event in the United States (90,185 fans, 1999 World Cup soccer final), the Memorial Stadium record (91,585 fans, NU vs. Miami football in 2014) and the world’s largest women’s sporting event (91,648 fans, Barcelona vs. Wolfsurg soccer in the Women’s Champions League in 2022). Depending on how many people cram in, they could go for the all-time record for a volleyball match (95,887 fans, Brazil vs. Soviet Union men in 1982).

“I don’t think really any of us are able to grasp what’s really happening and going down tomorrow,” Husker junior Merritt Beason said on Tuesday. “I think it will hit us all once we are walking out of the tunnel. Ninety-three thousand people is kinda hard to wrap your head around and the fact that they’re here for us and here supporting us is kinda crazy to think about. It’s hard to put it into perspective and prepare for it honestly.”

When NU coach John Cook saw the court set up in the stadium, he had his own “Hoosiers” moment. It looked so small in the cavernous venue. 

“I actually had to go measure the court because I thought they messed it up,” he said. “It was too small. Because it was just out there. It just looks smaller than when it’s in Devaney. But I walked it off and it was accurate.”

The Huskers will have a practice Tuesday night where they will get a better feel for the environment and the conditions. While all of NU’s players have played in the elements during the beach season, it will be different on a hard court and inside a huge stadium. 

Cook said the two biggest challenges will be dealing with depth perception and the court setup. 

Without a roof overhead, judging when to hit a ball could be more challenging. Even in bigger arenas they still have a roof to calibrate against, but the open sky makes it similar to a beach match. 

The court is set up on a platform with plenty of space outside the Teraflex surface to ensure no one runs off the edge. However, that puts the bench further away from the action and will affect players’ normal routine and could alter communication with coaches. 

Then there is the weather. Beason said she will have a towel handy to help with sweat from humidity and temperature in the low 80s. The teams will also have a longer break between the second and third sets so they can change uniforms if necessary.

While Beason’s first time inside a full Memorial Stadium will be for a game she plays in, Allick attended a Husker football game two years ago. Growing up, she went to tailgates across the street from the stadium but never went inside. 

The Huskers will use the football team’s locker room and get to participate in a lot of the usual game-day traditions. Allick said she’s excited to participate in the volleyball team’s version of the Tunnel Walk. 

“I kind of wish I had a couple of pads on and we could run into each other and feel like a bunch of dogs,” Allick said. “It’ll be sick. … What a production. It goes to show that like football, volleyball is a really big deal here. It’s cool that we get a taste of it.”

Allick is looking forward to soaking up as much of the crowd atmosphere as possible. She said she might bring her cowboy boots for the Scotty McCreery concert afterward. 

The crowd will be full of different groups that provide inspiration to the Huskers. Almost 100 former NU players are coming back to watch the match and 40 buses full of high school and younger volleyball players will also be making the trip to Lincoln. 

Beason said she’s excited to meet some of the former legends whose names she’s seen on the walls of the home arena. Also, because tickets for matches in the Devaney Center can be hard to come by, Beason is looking forward to playing in front of the next generation of players.

“At the end of the day. I know most people on our team play because someone inspired them,” she said. “Whoever it was for that person on our team, we get to be that for young girls now. I think it’s so cool for us. That’s what drives a lot of people on our team is they want to do it for the person after us. I think it’s super cool for us to be able to obviously be in this environment, but for so many young girls to be able to be here and to share the experience with us.”

Cook said he’s taking each moment as it comes and is trying to soak up as much of the experience as possible. While he is trying to prep the players on what to expect, nothing will get them ready to be in the middle of more than 90,000 fans watching them. 

“This is all new to me too, so I’m just trying to just take advantage of it,” Cook said. “I did have this thought yesterday, this is as close as I’m gonna be to being the head football coach at Nebraska, playing down here. This is gonna be awesome.”


• 16,833 – NCAA regular season volleyball, Florida at Wisconsin, Sept. 16, 2022

• 18,755 – NCAA volleyball attendance record, Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, Columbus, Ohio; Dec. 18, 2021

• 90,185 – Women’s sporting event in the United States, 1999 World Cup soccer final

• 91,585 – Memorial Stadium record, Miami vs. Nebraska football, Sept. 20, 2014

• 91,648 – Women’s sporting event, Barcelona-Wolfsburg, Women’s Champions League soccer  semifinal, April 21, 2022

• 95,887 – Volleyball record, Brazil vs. USSR men, 1982

Huskers prepping for record-Breaking day at Memorial Stadium

By Lincoln Arneal

Following a sweep against SMU on Sunday, Nebraska stayed in the locker room longer than usual.

The Huskers weren’t getting chewed out. They weren’t talking about how to fix their offense or having a players-only meeting. Instead, they reviewed the expansive logistics for the next few days.

The upcoming Volleyball Day in Nebraska, when a volleyball match will be played in a packed football stadium, is a first-of-its-kind event for the sport. With more than 91,000 people in attendance and 200 media members expected, Wednesday will be more than just a volleyball game.

“We’re really trying to front-load them up on, ‘Hey, this is going to be way out of what we’re normally used to trying to do,’” NU coach John Cook said. “We want to embrace it. This is historic. It’s going to make history, and it’s a worldwide event and we want to have fun, but we still got to win a match.”

Nebraska players have played outside during beach season, but no one has played volleyball in front of such a huge crowd. The match will exceed the previous regular season attendance mark for a volleyball game more than five times over.

“It’s gonna be an insane day but I don’t think anything can really prepare us for that game,” freshman Harper Murray said.

Getting to game day has taken months of planning, which started before the announcement in February. Fans overwhelmed the ticket office in April and forced the release of more tickets than anticipated. Tickets for stadium seats were gone in a few days, and by July, all standing-room-only tickets were purchased.

The Board of Regents approved alcohol sales in Memorial Stadium. Sales will be at kiosks around the stadium and most domestic and craft beer options will be in 16-ounce cans for $9 each. Three local breweries will be featured as Zipline Brewing Co. and Kinkaider Brewing Co. will have two beers for sale during the event, and Empyrean Brewing Co. will have one craft beer available.

To help with campus traffic, Nebraska canceled in-person classes on Wednesday. Parking will be available in booster lots around the campus, and NU is offering shuttle services to the stadium.

Then came the actual logistics of staging an indoor sport outside in a massive stadium.

Because of the convex crown of the football field, the volleyball court needed to be placed on a riser to provide a level surface. When the stadium was set up for the May commencement ceremony, the graduate managers tested the Teraflex court on a riser. They realized they needed to reinforce the structure to better assimilate an indoor surface and insure athlete safety.

The Nebraska events management team set up the court Thursday night after the football team finished practice. First, they laid down a protective surface over the turf. Then they began setting up a stage for media purposes 20 feet from the court. The space between will hold bleachers and courtside seating. In addition, a stage also is set up on the south side of the field for the concert that will cap the event.

Event workers aren’t the only ones who will be busy on Tuesday and Wednesday. After playing three matches in three days, the volleyball team will get an off-day on Monday, but Tuesday is packed. Cook, junior Merritt Beason and sophomore Bekka Allick are scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday morning.

Three teams – Nebraska-Omaha, Wayne State and Nebraska – will practice on the outdoor court Tuesday afternoon. Nebraska-Kearney is not scheduled to practice on the outdoor court. Tuesday evening will also include a reception for former Husker players at the stadium and a reception where the current team will appear.

On Wednesday, the Huskers will arrive at the stadium shortly after noon. They will stop by a rally at the NU Coliseum at 12:30 p.m. They will eat together, go through a serve-and-pass practice and hang out in the Nebraska football locker room for the rest of the day.

Gates for the matches will open at 3:30 p.m., an hour before the first serve between Wayne State and Nebraska-Kearney. Fans are allowed to bring personal empty water bottles into the stadium with the regular football regulations in effect – clear bags, digital tickets, no smoking to name a few. The Scotty McCreery concert will begin 15 minutes after the final point and include a light show.

The Nebraska vs. Nebraska-Omaha match, set to start at 7 p.m., will be televised by the Big Ten Network and Wayne State vs Nebraska-Kearney will be shown on Nebraska Public Media. More information about parking and the event is available on the Huskers website:

Huskers Wrap Up Weekend With Another Sweep

By Lincoln Arneal

After failing to close out the first set on six attempts, Nebraska looked right back to the player who had powered their success up to that point – freshman Harper Murray. 

Murray had given the Huskers a 24-10 lead with a 6-0 run that included two back-row kills and an ace. However, NU had trouble finishing off SMU on Sunday afternoon as it failed to terminate its next six swings. 

Eventually, setter Bergen Reilly went back to Murray in the back row, who fired the ball off a Mustang defender for the 25th point for her eighth kill in the set on 11 errorless swings.

Murray earned MVP honors of the Ameritas Players Challenge as the fifth-ranked Huskers finished the weekend 3-0 with a 25-16, 25-23, 25-16 victory over SMU at the Devaney Center. 

“Everyone on our team already knew she was a stud, but in her first three games, she proved it to everyone,” junior Lexi Rodriguez said. “We see it every day, but it was pretty cool for everyone else to get to see it.”

Murray struggled in the second set as she said her connection with Reilly was a bit off, but she finished with 14 kills on a .310 hitting percentage to go with 10 digs. 

The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native said she has developed a good connection with Reilly, who tallied 29 assists, but they still have work to do. After five hitting errors in the second set, Murray regrouped and put together an unblemished stat line in the third set. 

“In that first set, we just had a rhythm going, and it was going pretty well,” Murray said. “Then in the second set, there were a couple of balls that were off for both of us. But overall, she did a great job, but we still got to work on our connection a little bit more in those tight moments.”

Murray was a primary target for SMU servers as she was targeted 13 times. In NU’s three matches, she passed the most serves on the weekend. Murray made progress against SMU, only giving up one ace when she stepped aside thinking a ball was headed out only for it to land on the line. She committed three reception errors in each of the first two matches. 

“At first, it was kind of surprising for it to actually happen so I struggled passing at the beginning,” she said about being the primary serving target. “Getting used to that is going to be really big for me, and I think having Lexi and Laney (Choboy) next to me is gonna help a lot.”

Nebraska’s offense sputtered at times on Sunday and finished hitting .144. Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson was the only NU player to appear in all three sets who didn’t have at least four hitting errors. She had five kills and a .333 hitting percentage. 

The weakest position was Nebraska’s second outside hitter. Juniors Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst and sophomore Hayden Kubik combined for three kills and seven errors on 28 attacks, 21 of which came from Krause. 

Cook said one of them needs to seize the opportunity.

“They are getting great sets,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody’s going to step up and take that spot.”

On the other side of the net, NU’s defense looks ready for the season. The Huskers recorded 11 blocks, including seven from Jackson, and limited SMU to hitting .045. In the first two matches, Utah State finished with a .061 hitting percentage and Lipscomb hit .091. 

SMU (1-2) was led by eight kills from Natalie Perdue, who hit .172. The Mustangs’ most efficient attack was their setter Celia Cullen, who amassed four kills largely on winning jousts at the net. 

Krause was in on five blocks and Bekka Allick recorded four. Rodriguez led the floor defense with 14 digs while Reilly added nine. Rodriguez and Choboy, who had seven digs, were both named to the all-tournament team. 

“I think our defense is really solid,” Cook said. “Our blocking today was – we were touching everything. And that’s a pretty nice team and they go pretty fast. So it was a defensive clinic we put on today.”

Cook said the one lesson he learned from the weekend is he doesn’t like playing three matches in three days. He said both teams as well as the crowd of 8,311 were flat on Sunday. He said it’s hard to get up for three straight days. He thought the Huskers looked like they had good energy but were “out of whack,” and SMU looked gassed. 

“Playing three matches in three days validates that we’re not going to do that anymore,” Cook said. “We’re not going to go back to playing two matches in one day. In the future, we are just going to have two matches in a tournament and find other days to play matches.”

Ameritas Players Challenge All-Tournament Team: 

  • MVP: Harper Murray, OH, Nebraska
  • Laney Choboy, DS, Nebraska
  • Lexi Rodriguez, L, Nebraska
  • Natalie Perdue, OH, SMU
  • Shelby Capllonch, OH, Utah State
  • Kennedi Boyd, MB, Utah 
  • Delaney Smith, L, Lipscomb

Huskers Move To 2-0, Sweep Past Lipscomb

By Lincoln Arneal

Andi Jackson talks as fast as she plays. 

The freshman middle blocker was a sensation in her first career start for Nebraska as she recorded eight kills on a .700 hitting percentage to go with four blocks. 

Afterward, an excitable Jackson talked to the media about her experience on the court during the Huskers 25-10, 25-21, 25-16 win over Lipscomb Saturday at the Devaney Center. 

Jackson didn’t wait long to impact the game as she terminated on her first four swings. She recorded her first career kill on an overpass. She added three more kills on slide attacks as she bounced the ball in front of the Lipscomb defense. 

“It’s so fun,” Jackson said about the slide. “(Setters) Bergen (Reilly) and Kennedi (Orr), they dish it every single time. I have to give them credit. I wouldn’t be able to run it without them. I mean just hit over the block and around the block, and it’s like Coach says, it’s going to score every time.”

Jackson was one of two lineup changes for NU (2-0) from its opening night lineup. Jackson replaced sophomore Bekka Allick, while Ally Batenhorst started at outside hitter for Lindsay Krause.

The Huskers came out firing and jumped to a 10-2 lead. Reilly led NU to a .550 hitting percentage in the first set as NU amassed 13 kills. Freshman Harper Murray accounted for four kills, while junior Merritt Beason added three. 

The second set unfolded quite differently. Lipscomb outside hitter Courtney Jones helped spark the Bisons with five kills on 10 attacks. Lipscomb led by as much as 19-13 before Nebraska snapped out of its funk. 

Down 21-16, Lipscomb (0-2) gave NU a point with its 10th service error of the match. With Murray at the service line, Beason recorded back-to-back kills. Murray followed up with two aces sandwiched around a timeout. After Beason and Maggie Mendelson teamed up for a block, Batenhorst capped off the 9-0 run to win the set with three straight kills, two of which came on out-of-system assists from Lexi Rodriguez.

Beason said she’s seen her teammates rally after adversity every day in practice and was happy that they could translate that to a match and show how they don’t want to lose a set for the person next to them. 

“We play like that every single day in practice. 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,” Beason said. “I think it’s really cool for you guys to see that now. Obviously, we would like to work on not getting so far in a rut, but we do pull out of it. I think that shows a lot about our team. We show a lot of grit, and we just fight for each other.”

Reilly led a good showing by the Huskers’ offense, which finished with a .366 hitting percentage. Beason led the way with 11 kills, while the middle blockers were more involved as they combined for 21 attacks, and Mendelson added four kills. 

Cook said Reilly, who finished with 29 assists, nine digs and two kills, did a good job creating one-on-one matchups in the middle and right pin as the Lipscomb blockers were releasing early to get to NU’s outside hitters. 

“She did a good job of following the game plan and making good choices,” Cook said. 

Murray added 10 kills at a .389 clip to go with three aces. Batenhorst finished with five kills, while Krause terminated on both her swings in a late appearance in the third set. 

Rodriguez finished with 10 kills and surpassed 1,000 career digs with her third dig of the first set. Now in four-digits just two matches in her junior year, Rodriguez is on pace to top the NU career mark of 1,890 set by Justine Wong-Orantes in 2016.

After the match, when asked about the accomplishment, Cook jokingly asked, “What took her so long?” 

Lipscomb finished hitting .091 led by seven kills from Jones. The Bisons tallied five aces but also committed 15 service errors. 

The 8,583 fans at Saturday’s match marked the third most at the Devaney Center since 2013, only two people behind No. 2 – a 2014 match against Penn State. The record is 8,632 for a 2019 meeting versus Stanford, which featured the top two teams in the rankings. Nebraska added 400 seats on the upper bowl’s east and west ends during the offseason. 

Nebraska closes the weekend against SMU on Sunday. The Mustangs (1-1) dropped its match against Utah State on Saturday. 

Despite the loss, Cook said SMU should present a good challenge. 

“They got some big arms and they got some athletes,” he said. “They play fast, so you have to be really disciplined.”

 Huskers Open With Sweep as Two Freshmen Shine  

By Lincoln Arneal

Welcome to the Bergen Reilly and Harper Murray era of Nebraska volleyball. 

The two heralded recruits passed their opening test with solid play on the court and even handled the postgame press conference like seasoned veterans. 

Reilly and Murray kicked off their collegiate career in high fashion, leading the fifth-ranked Huskers to a 25-20, 25-17, 25-17 victory over Utah State Friday evening at the Devaney Center.

CE5A9505 800
13 Merritt Beason, 44 Maggie Mendelson

Reilly became the second-ever freshman setter to start the opening match of her career, joining Nicklin Hames, now a Husker grad assistant. Reilly finished with 26 assists, seven digs and three blocks, plus four kills on six attacks. 

The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native said Cook told her earlier in the day that she would get the start. Cook told her in advance so she could prepare for her first match. Reilly said last week’s intrasquad scrimmage helped prepare her to play under the bright lights in front of 8,436 fans. 

“I think Red-White was huge for all of us,” she said. “We kind of got whatever we had inside of us out, and today it just felt like another day.”

Cook said Reilly earned the start over junior Kennedi Orr because of her serving and her improvement as a blocker. He added that she runs a good tempo, sets the middle blockers well, and he called her back sets “world-class.”

“She’s a great competitor,” Cook said. “It’s been very close, but over time she’s a couple of points better right now.”

Murray also played well in her official debut. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter recorded an ace on the first serve of her career and tied for a match-high nine kills at a .350 clip. The Ann Arbor, Michigan, native also added five blocks and an ace. 

She said her teammates helped put her at ease. 

“Of course there are some nerves – we’ve prepared for this game and this season for so long,” Murray said in a post-match TV interview. “The upperclassmen did a great job keeping our nerves under wraps. They’ve been through this two times already, and they know what it is like. So kudos to them for keeping us calm and preparing us to play.”

CE5A9482 800
13 Merritt Beason

Utah State targeted Murray with serves, making her pass 21 of their 40 attempts. She gave up three aces but performed well as the Huskers hit .286 for the match. 

The Aggies had some success early as it took NU a bit to get used to their speed and offensive attack. Cook said the Huskers made good defensive adjustments, which led to limiting USU to hitting .061 for the match. Shelby Capllonch led the way for the Aggies with nine kills. 

Transfer Merritt Beason also recorded nine kills for NU. She struggled early with four errors in the first set but only committed one in the final two. Junior Lindsay Krause also got the starting nod at outside hitter and put up six kills and two aces. Reilly led an even attack as Krause led the way with 21 attacks, and Murray and Beason totaled 20 each. 

In the middle, Bekka Allick tallied five kills on eight swings with seven blocks. Playing against her home-state school, Maggie Mendelson finished with three kills and three blocks. Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez led NU with nine digs. 

The Huskers used limited subs with just freshman Laney Choboy appearing in the back row for Krause. Cook said he plans on making some lineup changes this weekend. 

The Huskers are back in action Saturday at 5 p.m. against Lipscomb, which SMU swept on Friday. 

“I’m still not settled on the lineup, but we just told them that this is the group that was going to lead our stampede tonight,” Cook said. “We are a herd of horses stampeding toward this season, and this was the group that was going to lead the stampede tonight. We’ll mix it up a little bit tomorrow.”

CE5A9451 800
44 Maggie Mendelson
CE5A9421 800
13 Merritt Beason
CE5A9405 800
27 Harper Murray
CE5A9123 800
CE5A9411 800
13 Merritt Beason
CE5A9466 800
02 Bergen Reilly

Sibling rivalry among storylines in Huskers’ opening weekend

By Lincoln Arneal

The smack talk started even before the match was official. 

When Ally Batenhorst first learned about the possibility of playing her sister, Casey, and SMU earlier this year, she immediately reached out and they shared in the excitement. 

However, the joy quickly turned to sibling rivalry. 

“I was like, ‘I’m gonna hit you in the face,’” Ally told her sister.

The younger Batenhorst, a sophomore, didn’t like that option. How was she supposed to respond as a setter? So she asked kindly for Ally to avoid any attacks. In Casey’s favor, she has a better scouting report. She knows where Ally likes to receive the ball and what type of shots she hits. 

“We both know each other pretty well,” Ally said. “It’s gonna be really competitive.”

The Batenhorsts will meet on Sunday at 2 p.m. when No. 5 Nebraska wraps up the Ameritas Classic against SMU. The Huskers open the season Friday at 6 p.m. at the Devaney Center against 2022 NCAA tournament qualifier Utah State. The Huskers play Lipscomb at 5 p.m. Saturday. 

The Huskers have ties to each team coming to Lincoln this weekend. 

Utah State coach Rob Neilson was an assistant coach for the BYU men’s team, while NU assistant coach Jaylen Reyes played for the Cougars. Lipscomb freshman middle blocker Brooklyn Fuchs played in high school at Lincoln East and Premier Nebraska volleyball club.

SMU also includes freshman outside hitter Evan Glade, a Millard West graduate who grew up in Grand Island. 

Ally Batenhorst said she and Casey have a bunch of family members coming to the match. She has lots of relatives who live in Nebraska. Her mother, Susan, attended Nebraska, and her father, Kurt, played basketball and ran track at Nebraska Wesleyan. Their older sister, Danielle, wrapped up her volleyball career at Gonzaga last year. 

Batenhorst said her family will have special split shirts to represent both sisters. They haven’t let Ally see the shirts, but she said they would be “very extra.” 

Casey appeared in 10 matches last year for SMU and recorded 78 assists and six aces over 30 sets. The Mustangs return their starter from last year, Celia Cullen, who averaged 10.16 assists per set. 

Ally, a junior, is one of four outside hitters vying for action for NU. She started 14 of the 26 matches she played a year ago and averaged 2.33 kills per set. 

Being only a grade apart, Ally and Casey grew up playing volleyball together and developed a good connection as a setter and hitter. They helped lead Seven Lakes High School outside Houston to the 6A Texas state title in 2020. Ally was named tournament MVP. 

Ally, a 6-foot-5 outside hitter, said she and Casey have a good relationship even when they have a few rough moments on the court. 

“With a setter-hitter connection and you’re also siblings, you bicker a little bit when things aren’t going well,” she said. “We grew up together, and we’ve built that relationship, and we bonded really well. We are really excited to see each other. It’s been a while.”

Cook Still Weighing Options in Starting Lineup

By Lincoln Arneal

Following a closed practice, Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook didn’t let any secrets out about what the starting lineup will be for the Huskers’ opening match on Friday.

Less than 48 hours before the first serve of the season, he said he was still working through options. 

“I don’t know yet,” Cook said on Wednesday. “We will probably play a couple of lineups this weekend.”

Part of the reason for his uncertainty is the competition level in training and everyone’s willingness to push each other. Cook said several players left practice unhappy because they lost a scrimmage. 

However, they are ready to face outside competition. When asked about her feelings about getting to face outside competition, junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst’s face lit up. 

“I’m so excited,” she said. “We haven’t really played that many people. It’s just been (teams on the) Brazil (trip) that we played, but we’re excited to play another team because we’re a really competitive group.”

That level of intensity was on display during Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage. Three of the four sets were decided by two points and the other one was won by the losing team. The two teams finished with the same amount of points over the four sets. 

Freshman opposite Caroline Jurevicius said she gained valuable experience in her first competition in the Devaney Center. Even though she’s watched matches in the arena on television, the energy in the air still caught her off guard. After overcoming early nerves, she was proud of how her team rallied from a 19-6 deficit in the fourth set to earn a set point. 

Jurevicius said she enjoys the competition in the gym as they near their first match of the year. 

“It’s just a challenge of who’s going to make each other better and who’s going to be on top,” she said. “Pressure builds diamonds and I think that was a really, really good experience for the whole team.”

Some of the position battles might be finalized this weekend, but others continue to be sorted out. Batenhorst said even for the players that don’t begin the game on the court, they still have a chance to prove themselves. 

“They’ve played in club, in high school, and they know exactly what volleyball’s like. It’s a competitive world,” she said. “Everyone’s focusing on themselves and just doing the absolute best that they can and growing their game and fighting for their spot and it’s up for grabs.”

Cook said he’s training all four outside hitters to be six-rotation players. However, the challenge he faces is finding a way to get freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy on the court. He called Choboy and junior libero Lexi Rodriguez “elite” and wanted them on the court as much as possible. 

The scrimmage showed the Huskers have plenty of depth, but Cook said he might let players work through struggles rather than automatically pull them. He said it would be a game-time decision and would depend on if they are competing, talking, bringing energy and if they go in the I-Club – thinking internally instead of for their teammates. 

“If they go there, they are out,” Cook said. 

Goodbye Doubleheaders

Work productivity should increase for NU volleyball fans on Friday. They won’t need to leave their jobs early to spend the afternoon with the Huskers at the Devaney Center. 

After an NCAA rule change, the Huskers will not play two matches during the same day for the first time during a normal season since 2011. NU opens with Utah State on Friday and will play Lipscomb Saturday before closing with SMU on Sunday. 

Previously the NCAA allowed teams 28 match days during a regular season schedule. To squeeze more matches in and cut down on travel expenses, teams would often double up. After the change, teams are now allowed to play 32 contests. 

NU has 29 scheduled regular-season matches this year, all on different days. Cook said they are compensating teams more to help cover the additional travel costs of staying in Lincoln an additional day. 

Cook said he likes the change because no one has to play consecutive matches. 

“It’s not fair to those teams or those athletes,” Cook said. “We’re trying to make it where we can get three great matches. Everybody has the same chance to recover, rest and prepare and nobody has an advantage just because of what time they’re playing.”

Carter Out

When asked about NU president Ted Carter leaving Nebraska for Ohio State, Cook took a second to collect his thoughts. He said the university was losing two good leaders between Carter and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, who retired at the end of June. 

He called Carter a “cool dude,” as a former Navy fighter pilot, Top Gun instructor and fellow San Diego resident. However, Cook doesn’t like it when people leave to go to schools in the same league. 

“I don’t like it when teams, players, whoever, leave Nebraska and go to another Big Ten school,” he said. “That’s the competitive part of it.”