After dominating the Big Ten for most of the year, Nebraska dominated Thursday’s end-of-season awards.
The top-ranked Huskers won four of the five individual honors and placed four players on the All-Big Ten first team, the most in the conference.
Freshman Bergen Reilly was honored as the setter of the year, junior libero Lexi Rodriguez repeated as defensive player of the year after also winning it in 2021 and outside hitter Harper Murray was selected as the top freshman in the Big Ten.
John Cook was named the league’s coach of the year by the media and his fellow head coaches. He said he was honored to be recognized by his peers.
“That means a lot because I know how hard this conference is, how many great coaches there are and how competitive it is,” Cook said during a BTN interview. “To win that award, it’s hard and it means a lot. I’m very, very appreciative and there’s a lot of other coaches that certainly could deserve it.”
Sarah Franklin of Wisconsin was named player of the year after averaging 4.17 kills per set with a .308 hitting percentage while adding 2.02 digs per set and 572 serve receptions.
Murray, Reilly, Rodriguez and junior opposite Merritt Beason were all named to the All-Big Ten first team. Beason and Rodriguez were two of the seven unanimous first-team selections.
Middle blockers Andi Jackson and Bekka Allick were named to the second team. Reilly, Murray and Jackson were all named to the conference’s all-freshman team with the first two being unanimous selections.
The six honorees tied the 2016 and 1991 teams for the most honorees in a single season. The 2016 squad had four first-team selections and two honorable mentions, while the 1991 team earned four first-team selections, two second-team and one honorable mention.
Reilly is the first freshman to be named Big Ten setter of the year.
During Big Ten play, she averaged 11.19 assists as the Huskers hit .282, 47 points better than last season. She was named setter of the week four times and freshman of the week twice.
On the surface, Rodriguez seemed like a stretch for the award as she didn’t have the most digs in the league at 3.6 per set, the 10th-best in the Big Ten. However, she made up for that in quality as she passed an elite 2.45 rating out of 3. Opponents often built game plans to avoid Rodriguez, who was honored on the Big Ten first team for the third time. Plus, she was the most prominent player on NU’s defense, which limited opponents to a .141 hitting percentage, third-best in the nation.
Murray averaged 3.29 kills per set on a .250 hitting percentage. She also put up 2.1 digs per set and led the Huskers with 31 aces. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter won three weekly freshman honors.
Cook helped the Huskers integrate six newcomers and won the league by two games with no seniors on the roster. NU also navigated Volleyball Day in Nebraska, won the match of the year (Nebraska’s win over Wisconsin in Lincoln) and nearly went undefeated, finishing with a 28-1 record. It’s the fourth time he’s won league coach of the year. He was recognized in 1997 (at Wisconsin), 2016 and 2017. He also was named the top coach in the Big 12 four times (2001, 2005, 2008, 2010).
Beason averaged 4.49 points per set as she put up 3.81 kills on a .284 hitting percentage for the season. She upped her game against Big Ten competition with 4.03 kills at a .296 clip. The junior opposite added 27 aces and 80 blocks, averaging 2.08 digs per set.
Jackson finished the regular season with a .408 hitting percentage, which was second in the Big Ten and 15th in the nation, with 2.1 kills per set. The 6-foot-5 freshman also added 1.06 blocks per set. She earned one freshman-of-the-week award this season.
Allick was fourth in the Big Ten with 1.35 blocks per set. The sophomore middle blocker added 1.82 kills on a .324 hitting percentage. She was also a second-team selection last year.
Maggie Mendelson was NU’s sportsmanship honoree. The sophomore middle blocker has appeared in 12 matches this year with 21 kills and 11 blocks. She was also named to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team earlier this year.
Moments after recording a kill against Penn State that gave Nebraska a 20-15 lead in the fourth set, Merritt Beason celebrated with her teammates.
As the huddle broke up, she could tell something was not right with Bekka Allick. The Nittany Lions had blocked the sophomore middle blocker on the prior point, and Beason could tell the hitting error still bothered her.
Beason took a beat, said a few words and made Allick laugh. As they turned toward the net to prepare for the next point, Beason continued chatting with her teammate, comforting Allick, building her up and keeping her engaged in the moment.
Sensing the mistake was still looming in Allick’s mind, Beason reminded her of all the block touches she had that night and the positive plays she already had made.
“I tend to try to shift it to something more positive and if one area isn’t going great for them that day,” she said. “I even do that with myself, but we try to focus on the things that aren’t going well. And so (what I say to them) depends on the moment. It could be technical, and it also could just be a little bit of encouragement.”
The brief interaction during Nebraska’s reverse sweep lasted 10 seconds in total, but encapsulates Beason’s impact on the Huskers’ magical season. Those moments happen in almost every match, practice and teammate gathering. Not only is she the Huskers’ leading point scorer, but she’s also a co-captain, helping a young team navigate one of the toughest schedules in the country. She’s the centerpiece of why this Nebraska team earned the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, which starts this weekend.
Junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst said not only is Beason dependable and steady, but she delivers in the clutch and knows how to motivate teammates. Against the Nittany Lions, Beason’s night included a career-high 27 kills on a .426 hitting percentage and an impassioned speech in the locker room after NU dropped the first two sets.
“She knows exactly what to say when it needs to be said,” Batenhorst said. “She knows how each person is on the court and what each person needs. And I think she does a good job of giving that when it’s needed.”
This season, Beason has put together an impressive resume.
She’s a rare right-side attacker who plays six rotations. She’s opened up the Husker offense by forcing the defense to pay attention to her no matter where she is on the court.
“With Merritt, every time she gets set, you expect her to kill the ball. When she doesn’t, it’s like, ‘Come on, Merritt,’” NU John Cook said jokingly after a match.
During Big Ten play, Beason averaged 4.03 kills per set while hitting .296, plus she added more than two digs per set. She was named Big Ten Player of the Week four times and earned national player of the week honors following NU’s win over Wisconsin. She’s a lock to be named an All-Big Ten first team and will likely earn All-American honors.
However, all those accomplishments and gaudy statistics are secondary to Cook. He said Beason’s impact off the court is more significant than on it.
“She just keeps everybody really grounded, and they all really, really respect her,” Cook said.
He said Beason embraced NU’s training and implemented new techniques into her game. Cook called her one of the most coachable players he’s ever had.
“She wants feedback, and she wants to try to always be making something better, whether it’s serving, passing, attacking, blocking. Not every player wants to be coached.”
Bergen Reilly said she has learned a lot from Beason in their time together. The freshman setter said Beason is personable and builds confidence in her, so they are ready to deal with adversity when the tough times come.
In practice, Nebraska will do passing drills where a pairing of players has to earn points for a perfect pass before they can take a break. Beason will stand by the court and wait until everyone is done before heading to the bench.
Freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy said Beason brings positive energy and is consistent. Beason will gather the group and get them back on track if they struggle in practice.
As someone who rides the emotional roller coaster during a match, Choboy said she appreciates Beason’s steady presence where she can’t tell if Beason is killing every ball or hitting negative.
“She’s very calm, which I am not,” Choboy said. “Especially being young, we haven’t really been through a season like this and had to do things emotionally like this. So she does a really good job of setting that example.”
The relationship began after a quick courtship.
Nebraska wasn’t planning to tap the transfer market, but when Whitney Lauenstein stepped away from the team shortly after the season, it opened a scholarship and created an immediate need. Even though Lindsay Krause had played as opposite hitter during the 2022 season, she was slated to return to her more natural position on the left pin.
The day after the NU coaches learned of Lauenstein’s departure, Beason appeared in the portal after playing two seasons at Florida.
Allick and Lexi Rodriguez were already familiar with Beason after the three were teammates at the 2022 Women’s U21 Pan Am Cup. The United States won the gold medal, and Beason was named MVP. That Rodriguez and Allick encouraged the coaches to reach out was a positive sign.
“Lexi and Bekka were so adamant about needing this girl on our team,” NU assistant coach Jaylen Reyes said. “Not purely because of her volleyball abilities but because of how she is as a human being.”
Nebraska was Beason’s first recruiting call after she entered the portal, and by 7:30 the next morning, she was on a flight to Nebraska.
She spent less than two days in Lincoln and got a whirlwind tour of the campus and city, which reminded her of her hometown of Gardendale, Alabama, just north of Birmingham. Beason met staff members and several players still on campus during the latter stages of finals week.
After making official visits to Wisconsin and Auburn, Beason pledged to the Huskers on Dec. 23. A month later, she was in Lincoln starting with a new program.
She quickly made an impression. From the first days as part of the program, Beason emerged as a leader, albeit unofficial. She praised her teammates for creating a positive team atmosphere for building relationships.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the girls that are the returners because they welcomed us with wide open arms and they kind of made it a very safe space for us to all come in and be ourselves,” Beason said.
Beason attended seminars the NU coaching staff arranged during the spring to cultivate leadership and build a sense of camaraderie on a team with no seniors. To cap off the semester, Cook asked everyone who wanted to be a captain to get up and talk to the team. Everyone spoke.
After hearing her talk during those meetings and watching how quickly she blended with her teammates, Cook said he knew Beason had leadership potential.
During the whirlwind recruitment, the coaches didn’t talk about Beason’s experience as a captain at Florida during her sophomore season. They were more focused on her skill set and the fact that she filled a need they had in the lineup.
After the spring match in Central City, Beason was selected by her teammates to address the sold-out crowd following the match. Although she wasn’t officially named a captain yet, her influence on the team was already growing.
“She has definitely stepped up as someone who wants to lead,” Cook said after the spring match. “For (her) to get to do it at this level with this type of team and all the great players we have is pretty special, and she’s really embraced it. Those guys follow her anywhere.”
The official title of captain came in June during the Huskers’ two-week international trip. While in Brazil, the Huskers continued to talk about leadership and the responsibility that comes with the title of captain. During one of the trip’s final days, Cook asked anyone who felt ready to be captain to address the team. This time, six people made their case.
Rodriguez and Beason emerged as consensus picks during individual meetings with the coaches. On the flight back, the pair learned about their selection from the plane’s pilot as he welcomed them to the captain club.
“I just came in, put my head down, and did what I needed to do,” Beason said. “Ultimately, I focused on those relationships with everyone – the freshmen, the newbies that I was coming in with and then everyone else. I think it’s definitely a huge honor. I don’t know; it’s pretty surreal. But I would say I just focused on being myself and just let it all fall into place.”
Before the season, Beason described herself as the mother of the team. She carries nearly every possible item in her bags, from ChapStick to snacks, but also provides intangible items they might need.
“I’m a very caring person as well,” she said. “If anyone on the team needs anything, they know that they can come to me, and I will be there. It doesn’t matter when it is or who it is or things of that nature, I’ll be there.”
Beason wants to be a second-grade teacher. Cook said it takes a special person to want to educate children and that Beason exudes charisma, a genuine interest in helping others, and kindness, which puts others at ease.
“One of her superpowers is she just creates stability on our side of the net,” Cook said. “Everybody’s calm and together, and she’s kind of in the heart and center of that.”
Beason isn’t alone in leading the team. She has worked with Rodriguez to guide the Huskers this season. Rodriguez was a co-captain last season for the Huskers and was also selected as the captain of the U21 national team, where she played with Beason and Allick.
They have complementary styles. Rodriguez is quieter and often leads by example, while Beason is more the one to address the team and challenge them.
Rodriguez said Beason has grown as a leader as she’s become more comfortable at Nebraska. Initially, Beason led by her words, but Rodriguez said she has stepped up on the biggest stages.
“It’s really good for the younger ones to look up to her and see how she gets after it in those big moments in those big games,” Rodriguez said. “When we need something at a pressure-filled moment, she’s always someone who’s going to take a big swing or make a big play.”
The pairing has made for the right combination to help the Huskers go 28-1 during the regular season and put together their best season start since the 2005 team opened 28-0. NU has conquered all the obstacles this year – playing in front of 92,003 in Memorial Stadium, taking down Stanford on the road, knocking off Wisconsin, rallying for a reverse sweep at Penn State and winning the Big Ten championship.
“My respect for Merritt and Lexi goes up every week for the job that they’re doing and how they’re managing this team and how they’re keeping everybody together,” Cook said. “Those two are very, very gifted leaders and they work really well together. They’re doing an amazing job because what we’re trying to do is not easy.”
Beason and Rodriguez communicate constantly and check in on each other. They talk about team issues, what happens in practice and how to keep their team unity strong. Cook said they know the responsibility they have and embrace it.
Beason said the most challenging aspect of being a captain is remembering to care for herself. Even in her second year as a captain, she gets wrapped up in building relationships with everyone else.
She’s built a network of supporters to help her. Beason and Rodriguez share brief moments during matches to see if the other needs anything. Beason will also check in with coaches and director of operations Lindsay Peterson.
Behind Beason’s on-the-court play and leadership, the Huskers are poised to make a deep tournament run. They’ve fought adversity together and are ready to take on any challenge. Beason said she hasn’t had to talk much about the will to fight to succeed as everyone understands they will have each other’s back.
“It makes it really, really easy to go out there and to compete when you know that everyone on the team has the same mindset of we’re gonna do whatever it takes,” she said. “Whatever’s in the way, we’re going to figure out a way to get around it. It’s really special.”
The cliche as the postseason starts is every team is 0-0.
But getting to 0-0, or reaching the postseason, is typically quite a ride. Each team has its own path and journey that got them to the NCAA tournament. Significant happenings, character-defining matches and events that shaped their identities.
Entering the season, Nebraska was expected to be good. It was tied for fifth place in the preseason rankings. The Huskers won 27 matches to start the season, their best start since 2005, and won the Big Ten title. Nebraska enters the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed.
Along the way, the Huskers made history multiple times and served notice that their freshman class was ready to compete now. Here are the most significant dates from the 2023 season:
Jan. 23 — The first day of classes for Nebraska
This might not seem like a big deal in the team’s journey, but it all started here. All 14 members were enrolled in classes for second semester and began to work out together. Even though Maggie Mendelson was with the basketball team, all five freshmen, who enrolled early, and transfer Merritt Beason were on campus. Having the whole group together allowed them to jump-start building chemistry and figure out how all the pieces fit together.
April 29 — Spring match in Central City
The exhibition match against Wichita State was the public’s first chance to see NU’s newcomers, and they didn’t disappoint in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,096. Harper Murray recorded 12 kills and a .391 hitting percentage in two sets. Andi Jackson jumped out of the gym on her way to seven kills in one set. Beason gave her first display of leadership by addressing the crowd after the match.
May 29-June 14 — The Brazil Trip
Two weeks on the road in a foreign country can bring a group together. While the competition was mixed, the Huskers went undefeated and received a couple of good tests from the Military Select and U21 teams. They also selected their captains on this trip and continued to develop chemistry.
Aug. 19 — Red-White Scrimmage
Usually, the intrasquad matches are about fine-tuning lessons from fall camp, putting on a show and letting the players get used to playing in front of a sold-out Devaney Center. This exhibition was one of the most competitive Red-White matches in program history. With 14 available players, the teams split into two sides and played a real match. The Red team won in four sets but came out on top in each of the three sets by just two points. The Huskers showed they have lots of depth and a competitive fire that would serve them well.
Aug. 30 — Volleyball Day in Nebraska
This was one of the premier events in volleyball history as 92,003 fans filled Memorial Stadium to watch Nebraska play. It put a spotlight on Nebraska and attracted worldwide coverage. Even though the playing conditions weren’t ideal, the Huskers put on a show in the spotlight and handled all the hoopla with aplomb. This was more about celebrating volleyball and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Sept 12 — Road win at Stanford
Yes, Nebraska already had picked up a ranked win against No. 16 Creighton, which didn’t have Norah Sis, but this put the Huskers on the map as a national contender. NU outplayed the fifth-ranked Cardinal on their home court hitting .333. The Huskers peaked in the second set with 17 kills at a .696 clip.
Sept. 29 — Road win at Purdue
The Big Ten schedule had kicked off the week before, but this was Nebraska’s first big league test. The Boilermakers pushed NU to five sets, but fans saw a glimpse of Murray’s grit as she recorded six kills in the fifth set to help deliver a victory. It wasn’t the prettiest at times, but NU got the job done.
Oct. 17 — Lindsay Krause’s Ankle Injury
The junior outside hitter was hurt in practice and wouldn’t appear in another regular season practice. Just over a week before she earned a Big Ten player of the week honor and was finding a groove on offense. Usually, this would limit a team’s chances to play at a high level, but Nebraska’s strength is in its depth. Junior Ally Batenhorst stepped in and helped the Huskers keep cruising.
Oct. 21 — The Match of the Century
Another monumental event that featured the top two ranked teams, which were both undefeated. The match lived up to the hype as the No. 2 Huskers escaped with a five-set victory over No. 1 Wisconsin after facing match point in the fourth set. Beason rose to the occasion with 21 kills and earned national player of the week honors the following week. Murray once again delivered in the clutch with seven kills on nine swings in the fifth set. With the win, Nebraska moved to the top of the polls.
Nov. 3 — Reverse Sweep at Penn State
The Nittany Lions controlled the first two sets of the match. However, Nebraska quickly turned the match around and wasn’t threatened in the next two sets. The Huskers looked like they would cruise again in the fifth set before Penn State rallied. Beason and Murray once again delivered in the clutch to keep Nebraska perfect. Beason started to gain traction as Big Ten Player of the Year with 27 kills on a .426 hitting percentage.
Nov. 19 — Big Ten Champions
After Wisconsin lost back-to-back matches, Nebraska clinched sole possession of the league title with a sweep at Iowa. This marked NU’s first league championship since 2017. The Huskers celebrated with hats, shirts and a locker room dance party. The joy and happiness from the group were palpable as they checked off the first of their major goals for the year.
Nov. 24 — First Loss of the Season
In the rematch, Wisconsin scored its revenge with a sweep. While the score was lopsided, the play was not. Nebraska had chances in the first two sets, and even had two set points in the second, but couldn’t close. Then the Badgers went into beast mode in the third set. The loss might fuel the Huskers to set up a third match in the national championship match.
Nov. 26 — No. 1 Overall Seed
The Huskers are rewarded for a season of excellence with the top overall seed. There wasn’t much drama to the proceedings. NU was No. 1 by most polls and metrics even after its first loss. The Huskers will stay home for the first two weekends of the tournament as they seek NU’s sixth national championship.
After a season of dominating wins and a near-perfect record, Nebraska was rewarded with a drama-free Selection Sunday.
The Huskers (28-1, 19-1 Big Ten) didn’t have to wait long to learn their fate as they were the first team announced on the selection show on ESPN as the No. 1 overall seed Sunday evening.
NU also learned its opponents for the postseason in short order. It will open on Friday against Long Island University, which won the Northeast Conference tournament.
“My freshman year, we were ranked 10th, and we were kind of waiting the whole time to see,” junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst said. “It was just kind of nice to just immediately know exactly where we stand and just have that moving forward.”
The top four overall seeds are Nebraska, Stanford, Wisconsin and Pitt. Those schools will host regionals the second weekend of the tournament should they advance.
LIU went 13-18 and finished fourth in the NEC with a 9-5 record. The Sharks won the NEC tournament by knocking off Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson.
The other first-round matchup in Lincoln is Missouri (17-12) vs. Delaware (24-4), with the winner playing NU or LIU on Saturday evening at the Devaney Center. The Tigers return to Lincoln after playing second-round matches against NU in the second round in 2018 and 2019.
“We have lots of good matchups coming up,” junior co-captain Merritt Beason said. “We’ve worked really hard this entire season and since January as a team to be in the position that we’re in. So we’re really, really excited to get started.”
If Nebraska advances to the second weekend, it will host regional matches for the first time since 2016, the last time the Huskers were the top seed. NU advanced to the national semifinal that year before falling to Texas.
“I think we just kind of have a lot of confidence, obviously being No. 1, and we obviously had a really good Big Ten season this year,” Batenhorst said. “This group comes in every day in practice, and just has that mindset of we’re going for it, especially in the postseason.”
NU coach John Cook said staying home through the final four provides a logistical advantage. NU doesn’t have to worry about making travel arrangements, plus it gets the home court treatment.
“We sleep in our own beds and our fans get to see this team, and I think they’ve been a huge factor for this group,” Cook said.
The Huskers’ region has a heavy SEC flavor. In addition to Missouri, Kentucky earned the No. 2 seed in NU’s quadrant, while Arkansas is the third seed and Florida is fourth.
Nebraska defeated Kentucky 3-1 when they met on Sept. 17, but the Wildcats are a different team than the first meeting after going 16-1 in the SEC. Arkansas tied for second and has only lost to three teams this year – twice to Wisconsin, twice to Kentucky and once to Georgia.
The Gators (18-9) tailed off as the season went on after All-American setter Alexis Stucky got hurt but scored wins over Stanford, Minnesota and Penn State in the first two weekends. Opposite Kennedy Martin is one of the top freshmen averaging 4.35 kills per set.
The SEC is sending the most teams into the postseason with eight, while the Big 12 got seven teams in. The Big Ten qualified five as did the ACC and Pac-12.
Nebraska built a strong resume in the nonconference, playing six conference champions who are in the NCAA field, including Utah State (Mountain West regular season), SMU (American), Nebraska-Omaha (Summit tournament), Creighton (Big East season and tournament), Stanford (Pac-12) and Kentucky (SEC). In addition to Stanford and Kentucky, SMU and Utah State earned seeds.
Only three of NU’s nonconference opponents didn’t make the postseason. Lipscomb went 21-8 and 14-2 in the ASUN, finishing second in the regular season and tournament. Long Beach State lost to Hawaii in the Big West title game, and Kansas State was one of the first eight teams left out. LBSU and the Wildcats each beat Texas, while KSU also knocked off BYU twice.
“We’ve had a lot of great competitions and a lot of the teams we have already played are in the tournament,” Batenhorst said. “It goes to show how strong our schedule has been this year and how that has prepared us really well moving into postseason.”
All four of the participants of Volleyball Day in Nebraska made their postseason. In addition to Nebraska, Nebraska-Omaha qualified for its first postseason appearance by winning the Summit League. Nebraska-Kearney and Wayne State each made the Division II tournament.
Creighton, the third Division I program in the state, received the No. 3 seed in Pitt’s region. The Bluejays will host the first two rounds and open with Colgate. Sixth-seed Utah State and Minnesota also play in Omaha.
Cook was excited to see all the other volleyball programs reach the postseason. He said when Omaha first reclassified to Division I, NU was reluctant to schedule them because of the RPI hit. However, Mavs coach Matt Buttermore has built a solid program that will play for the first time in December.
“Whenever I speak, I brag about volleyball in this state, and there’s going to be a day where all three Division I teams will make the tournament,” Cook said. “Nebraskans have a lot to be proud of. We are the volleyball state.”
MINNEAPOLIS — Nebraska’s lone loss of the season? That’s so yesterday.
The Huskers wiped their memories of any ill feelings, sour taste and leftover regrets of the sweep against Wisconsin on Friday night and rebounded with a 25-19, 25-18, 21-25, 25-23 win against Minnesota in front of 5,268 fans Saturday night at Maturi Pavilion to close the regular season.
Freshman setter Bergen Reilly said the No. 1-ranked Huskers stuck to their mantra of one game at a time and not looking back.
“There are things we can learn from yesterday, but in the end, we knew that today was another big match and we didn’t want to overlook them and just be like, ‘Oh, we already have the one seed or whatever,’” Reilly said. “We can learn things and we move on. We forget about it.”
With the victory, Nebraska (28-1, 19-1 Big Ten) made a solid case for the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. It finished with one regular season loss – one fewer than anyone else in the nation. The Huskers will learn their fate Sunday at 5 p.m. when the tournament selection show airs on ESPN.
Against the Gophers, NU started quickly. After Minnesota tied the first set at 5-all, the Huskers won five of the next six points. U of M closed to two points later in the set, but NU responded with three straight points, including a solo stuff by Reilly that was followed by another block by Reilly and Bekka Allick.
Merritt Beason took over the second set as she put up nine kills on 13 swings plus a block and ace serve. For the match, the junior opposite finished with 21 kills for a .302 hitting percentage and four blocks.
NU coach John Cook said Beason took things into her own hands to ensure the Huskers wouldn’t suffer another setback.
“She was not happy that we didn’t win last night,” he said. “As a leader, she wanted to step up and lead the team and that’s the best way you can do it.”
Nebraska looked poised to end the match with a sweep, but a kill by Minnesota defensive specialist Zeynep Palabiyik on an overpass changed the momentum. The Huskers were leading 17-13 before that point, but the Gophers went on a 4-0 run to tie the set. After trading side outs, Minnesota closed out the frame with another hot streak, scoring the final five points of the set.
“We missed an overpass. If we hit that thing, the game is probably over,” Cook said. “Then we make three hitting errors and we just kind of imploded. That’s what happens when you give the other team an easy out. They ran with it and we couldn’t get it back.”
Allick decided to take matters into her own hands in the fourth set, becoming responsible for the first six points with a kill and three blocks while giving Minnesota a pair of points on two hitting errors.
Allick, who recorded six blocks in the set and tallied 10 for the match to go with her eight kills, said NU needed to take control of the match after going with the flow in the third set.
“Especially after last night, it was kind of like spiraling,” Allick said. “The crowd started to get more into it. So after the third set, my biggest thing was to check on what we were doing and we just adjust. They obviously made some adjustments – their defense started to pick way up and started killing more balls. We just had to adjust.”
The Husker block came up huge again late in the fourth set. NU appeared to lead 24-19 after an Ally Batenhorst kill, but a successful challenge gave Minnesota new life. The Gophers won four of the next five points before Reilly and Andi Jackson stuffed Taylor Landfair to end the match.
Batenhorst and Harper Murray each finished with 13 kills. Murray added 17 digs and three ace serves. Five Huskers reached double-digit digs as Reilly added 13 digs to go with her 45 assists while libero Lexi Rodriguez added 10 digs and seven assists.
McKenna Wucherer led Minnesota with 16 kills, but also committed 10 hitting errors. Landfair tallied 14 kills and 10 blocks. U of M hit .184 for the match.
The Gophers (16-12, 12-8) will also await their fate on the selection show. They finished fifth in the Big Ten but have wins over Baylor and Oregon.
“Minnesota is much improved from the first time we played and they’ve been playing great,” Cook said. “They’ve been playing at a really high level tonight and we had to play at a really high level.”
Nebraska’s quest for an unblemished record ended on Friday afternoon during the final week of the regular season at the hands of its long-time nemesis, Wisconsin.
The Badgers’ offense proved too much for top-ranked NU as they hit .357 for the match and made all the clutch plays to earn a sweep. In the end, No. 5 UW scored a 25-22, 28-26, 25-16 sweep at the UW Field House.
NU coach John Cook said his Huskers played better on Friday than during a five-set victory over the Badgers on Oct. 21, but they struggled in end-of-set situations. He said now they have a real-life example of what it takes to win big matches instead of just listening to him in practice.
“It was a great learning and teaching opportunity for these guys,” Cook said. “I’m giving Wisconsin all the credit. They made the plays when it mattered and they got it done in those first two games when the game was on the line.”
The Badgers (25-3, 16-3) extended their home winning streak over Nebraska to eight matches. The last time the Huskers won in the UW Field House was in 2013.
While Nebraska snapped a 10-match skid against the Badgers last month, UW coach Kelly Sheffield said UW didn’t set a goal to end the Huskers’ perfect season. The Badgers were worried about righting their ship after losing two of their past three matches.
However, they did want to avenge their loss from earlier this year.
“We were able to go back and realize that we had unfinished business,” senior setter MJ Hammill said.
The Huskers (27-1, 18-1) had chances early.
Nebraska jumped to a 5-1 lead and was in control for most of the first set, but Wisconsin chipped away.
With the score tied 19-all, the Badgers won a crucial challenge in the first set. After a rally ended in a Harper Murray kill, Sheffield had a discussion with the down official before pulling his green card to trigger a replay review. The official determined NU setter Bergen Reilly had touched the ball as Badger outside hitter Sarah Franklin was going for an attack, which resulted in an illegal back-row block and a Wisconsin point.
Sheffield said he hesitated to challenge the play after losing one earlier in the set. Had he been wrong, UW would not have any more for the remainder of the match.
“You got to make sure that your players aren’t begging,” he said. “Hope is not a strategy, and she felt pretty certain. In that situation, you better be going with what the players are saying.”
That reversal gave the Badgers their first lead of the set and was part of a 7-1 run that erased an 18-15 Nebraska advantage. Franklin delivered three more kills down the stretch to help the Badgers take the first set.
The Huskers built another lead in the second set and were up 22-19 after five straight points, including three kills and a block by Murray, plus an ace from Maisie Boesiger.
Wisconsin stormed back with a 4-0 run, but Murray, who recorded nine of her team-high 15 kills in the second set, recorded a kill to fight off the first set point and then fired an ace to give NU the advantage.
Anna Smrek and Franklin delivered in the clutch for the Badgers with kills to prevent the Huskers from winning the set. The Badgers prevailed by scoring the final three points.
The Huskers led 6-5 in the third set, but UW won eight of the next 11 rallies. Later, the Badgers added six straight points as their offense took over. The Badgers hit .593 with 17 kills and just one hitting error.
Smrek scored 18 kills on a .378 hitting percentage for the match while Franklin added 16 kills at a .424 clip. Sheffield credited the defense for keeping rallies alive as Franklin and libero Julia Orzol each recorded 12 digs.
The Badgers also recorded five aces, including two by Hammill, after not getting one in the first meeting.
“They’re an incredible passing team,” Hammill said. “Their offense is really, really hard to stop and it’s even harder to stop when they’re in-system. In order to slow a team down, you want to be putting good, hard serves into good places.”
For the Huskers, junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst recorded seven of her 11 kills in the second set and finished with a .424 hitting percentage. Junior Merritt Beason also tallied 11 kills.
NU managed the big Wisconsin block better in the rematch after the Badgers recorded 18 blocks in Lincoln. UW finished with six stuffs, and the Huskers tooled off and tipped over the Badger front row.
The Huskers hit .243 for the match as Reilly tallied 32 assists and a team-high 10 digs. Libero Lexi Rodriguez recorded eight digs and eight assists.
The middle blockers were largely a nonfactor as Bekka Allick and Andi Jackson each totaled three kills on eight swings while committing a combined five errors.
Cook credited the struggle in the middle to subpar passing.
“We couldn’t get the ball to the middle tonight,” Cook said. “When we did, it just wasn’t in rhythm. Part of that is when you’re not passing consistently, it’s hard to get that rhythm going.”
While the Huskers were disappointed in the setback, they were focused on the bigger picture.
Rodriguez said NU still has much to accomplish this season and isn’t defined by one loss.
“It’s better to happen now than two weeks from now,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve done so many great things this season. We just had to go back to thinking about how we were able to get those big wins over teams and then just carry that on from there. I mean, you can’t win them all.”
Nebraska has one more chance to prove its mettle on Saturday against Minnesota, which swept Illinois on Friday. Rodrigeuz said she is eager to return to the court for the regular season finale.
“It will be good to bounce back from it and try to prove what we’ve learned from tonight’s game,” she said. “Hopefully we can build some momentum going into the postseason.”
Friday’s match will reverberate across the nation as it will be one of the final data points the NCAA selection committee has before announcing the bracket on Sunday afternoon.
Nebraska is well positioned for a top-four seed, allowing it to host regionals during the tournament’s second weekend. Cook believes the Badgers should be one too.
“Hell, yeah,” Cook said. “It would be a crime if they are not.”
LINCOLN – Bookend 13-10s have put an early end to another Nebraska football season.
Three of Nebraska’s seven losses, in fact, were by scores of 13-10. The final one helped extend a streak that, four weeks ago, Husker fans were certain was about to end.
Unless Nebraska finds a way to sneak into a bowl game with a 5-7 record – hey, it happened in 2015 – Husker fans won’t be making bowl plans for the seventh consecutive season after Friday’s gut-punch 13-10 loss to Iowa.
Nebraska opened the season with a 13-10 loss at Minnesota. Then the Huskers let critical end-of-game mistakes lead to a 13-10 loss to Maryland on Nov. 11 before completing the 13-10 trifecta with the loss to the Hawkeyes.
It’s the third time in nine seasons Nebraska went into its last game of the regular season against the Hawkeyes with a 5-6 record and needing a win to advance to a postseason game – and failing.
Nebraska has been within one victory of reaching the six-win threshold for nearly a month since defeating Purdue 31-14 on Oct. 28 to improve to 5-3.
But four bitter losses later, the Huskers are left picking up the pieces of what might have been and wondering just how much has improved since the forgettable Scott Frost era. And the forgettable Mike Riley era. And the … well you get the picture.
The past eight seasons – a stretch that includes the arrival and departure of both Frost and Riley and the first year of coach Matt Rhule – the Huskers are 39-55 (.415) with no appearances in the Big Ten championship game and bowl bids only in 2015 and 2016 under Riley.
With the reality of the Iowa loss still settling in his stomach like spoiled cranberries and second-day stuffing, Rhule was already turning the page in his post-game news conference. What else was there to say?
“It will all be fixed,” Rhule said. “It’ll all be improved. Maybe this is about where we are right now. Some people see it from the outside and they think, ‘Wow, they really messed that up.’ I see it as, ‘Man, these guys, how many guys go down and continue to put guys in, and we just battle, right?’”
It may well be true that there are myriad reasons to believe Rhule and his staff have a genuine plan to bring Nebraska back to relevance. But that’s a column for another day.
The way 2023 ended was crushing. Nebraska finished 1-5 in one-score games. Four came in the final one-third of the schedule. Iowa sneaking back across the border after kicking a winning field goal after intercepting a Husker pass was the capper.
“We had our chances down the stretch,” Rhule said. “We just weren’t able to make it happen. The things that affected us all year (penalties, turnovers), affected us.”
Friday’s game was tied 10-10 deep into the fourth quarter when Nebraska looked in good shape after converting a pair of third down plays on a drive that began at the 50-yard line.
Ten plays later the Huskers had moved the ball to the Iowa 26 and had taken just more than six minutes to do it. Freshman kicker Tristan Alvano, who made a 44-yard field goal in the third quarter to tie the score, missed a 44-yard attempt at the north goal post that would have given NU its first lead of the game. At that point there was 5:07 left on the clock.
The two teams then traded punts before swapping interceptions in the final 55 seconds. Just two plays after Hawkeyes quarterback Deacon Hill had his final pass of the game intercepted by Tommi Hill, NU quarterback Chubba Purdy had his last pass of the season picked off by Ethan Hurkett and returned 10 yards to the Nebraska 37 with 15 seconds to play.
A 22-yard run to the right by Iowa running back Leshon Williams moved the ball to NU’s 15 before Hill took the next snap, moved to his left and took a knee at the 20 with the ball centered for Hawkeyes kicker Marshall Meeder to make the game-winning 38-yard kick as time expired.
The interception had served up the win to Iowa on a silver platter.
“I think everybody felt good and it wasn’t exactly the cleanest field goal I’ve ever seen,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It looked like the snap might have been a little low, but it made it through the uprights and that’s all that counts.”
Meeder was called in for the game-winning attempt after starter Drew Stevens had two first-half field goal attempts blocked by Nebraska’s starting defensive tackles. The first was a 30-yard attempt knocked down by Ty Robinson with 2:24 remaining in the first quarter.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, Robinson’s linemate, Nash Hutmacher, swatted away a 24-yard attempt with just 50 seconds remaining before halftime.
“On the first one when they got the penalty I noticed that it was low,” Robinson said. “I just told them to take three steps and jump as high as you can. I got one and Nash got the second one.”
Despite those two blocks, the 10-2 Hawkeyes went into the intermission with a 10-7 lead. Following a scoreless first quarter, Hill ended a seven-play, 51-yard drive with a 1-yard QB sneak that produced Iowa’s lone touchdown of the game. The PAT by Stevens put Iowa ahead 7-0.
Between the two kicks that were blocked, Stevens made a 28-yard field goal with 5:28 remaining in the second quarter to give Iowa a 10-0 lead. Nebraska answered that with a 66-yard touchdown pass from Purdy to freshman Jaylen Lloyd three plays later.
NU’s next game isn’t for another 40 weeks when Texas-El Paso comes to Lincoln to open the season on Aug. 31, 2024. Games against Colorado, Northern Iowa and Illinois might give the Huskers a chance to get off to a fast start in Rhule’s second season. That’s the hope anyway, for those who want to toss 2023 into the trash bin.
“We’re just not quite there yet and that’s why I’m so proud of these guys,” Rhule said. “They battle, they fight and we don’t make excuses. We just come back. I think that’s the key.”
It’s not exactly the Rematch of the Century, but Nebraska-Wisconsin II still has plenty of intrigue.
The stakes are lower than the first time the Big Ten rivals played on Oct. 21 when they were both undefeated and ranked as the top two teams in the country. When they meet on Friday afternoon, the Huskers already have secured the conference championship, while Wisconsin enters the match at 24-3, having dropped two of its last three matches.
Still, there is plenty on the line as No. 1 Nebraska tries to keep its undefeated season intact at a soldout UW Fieldhouse. The fifth-ranked Badgers are fighting for a top-four seed and the right to host a regional. The match will also feature the two front runners for Big Ten Player of the Year – NU opposite Merrit Beason and UW outside hitter Sarah Franklin.
The Huskers will close the season on Saturday with a match at Minnesota. Even though they don’t have much to gain this week, NU coach John Cook thinks his players will still be fired up for the matches against Big Ten rivals.
“We’re very competitive. We’re going to want to go and compete,” he said. “These two matches this weekend are going to really help prepare us for what we could see in the NCAA tournament.”
Ten days ago, it appeared the Black Friday match could determine the league championship. However, the Huskers locked up the Big Ten title with a win at Iowa on Sunday after Wisconsin suffered losses at Penn State and at Purdue.
Cook said those two matches against the teams that will finish third and fourth in the league were the deciding factor in the title race.
“We were able to win at Purdue, Wisconsin didn’t,” he said. “We were able to win at Penn State, and Wisconsin didn’t. So that’s the difference.”
As exciting as the first meeting was, both teams have learned and evolved since.
The Badgers were without junior Anna Smrek for both of their losses with a concussion. The 6-foot-9 opposite/middle blocker returned on Sunday against Indiana and recorded 10 kills with a .667 hitting percentage to go with five blocks.
Wisconsin tinkered with its lineup without Smrek but quickly returned to their dominant form once everyone returned to their usual position.
Smrek is part of a massive Badger front row that challenged NU in the first meeting. Wisconsin recorded 18 blocks, including 12 in the second set, and limited the Huskers to a season-low .130 hitting percentage.
Beason, who recorded 21 kills against UW, acknowledged the Badgers are the biggest team in the country. The Huskers try to simulate what Wisconsin does with their male graduate managers. In addition, they have several pieces of equipment that mimic a big block.
“Their physicality is unmatched right now in college volleyball,” Beason said. “Just how big of a front row they have, how tall they are, and how physical they are. For us, there are very few teams that can challenge us in that way.”
Beason said the Huskers have to change their attacking approach to deal with the big block, but even if they get stuffed, they have to move on and be ready for the next point. She said NU learned a lot from the first match and is looking forward to the challenge of playing Wisconsin again.
“They’re going to push us,” Beason said. “They’re going to make big plays, and how we respond and how we move on is going to be huge. We obviously hope it’s not as ugly as the first go-round, but you never know. So we’ll be ready to adjust it.”
Nebraska has also evolved since the first meeting. Its freshmen have battled through an entire Big Ten slate. It has figured out how to play without junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause, who suffered an ankle injury the week before the first match against the Badgers. The Huskers have figured out an area to improve each week, whether it is passing, getting middle blockers more involved in the offense or refining their service game.
The Huskers will keep up with their routine in advance of the match. They will celebrate Thanksgiving on Wednesday after practice and then travel to Wisconsin on Thursday morning. Cook’s goal is to ensure no one eats too much turkey or pumpkin pie.
Cooks said he expects slugfests in Madison and Minneapolis this weekend, and his team to rely on the same grit and determination that helped it prevail in the first showdown with the Badgers. Even if errors mount up and defenses take over, Cook said the Huskers will be ready for the adversity.
“We’re just trying to be the best ugly team in the country,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be ugly at some point. We’re just trying to be the best.”
As Nebraska enters the final week of the regular season undefeated, coach John Cook may have finally found a benefit to the short attention span of this generation of college players.
After winning all 27 matches so far, Cook said the Huskers aren’t bothered by the weight of expectations of remaining perfect. He said the social media world has helped them live in the moment and focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about the big picture or their legacy.
“I don’t have to worry anymore about people looking ahead. They have a hard time looking ahead the next 10 to 15 seconds,” Cook said. “It’s just a different world than what older cats are used to.”
The Huskers will try to cap off a perfect regular season this weekend with matches at No. 5 Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is fighting for its postseason life.
Nebraska has only finished a regular season undefeated twice in program history. The 1994 team went undefeated before falling in the regional final to Penn State to end the year 31-1.
During Cook’s first year in 2000, the Huskers went 34-0 and won the program’s second national title, but the journey wore on them.
After dropping six sets during the first 27 matches, including a five-set win against No. 3 UCLA, NU was running on fumes the final few weeks. In their last seven matches, Nebraska dropped seven sets. It had to rally from 2-1 deficits against Kansas State to close out the regular season, South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament and Wisconsin in the championship match.
None of those comebacks was more precarious than against South Carolina. The Gamecocks led 12-8 in the fourth set before NU rallied to stay alive and win 15-13 in the fifth, which used rally scoring, unlike the first four sets.
“That was an exhausting season because we were undefeated and I think we hit the wall,” Cook said. “Twenty-three years ago, that was a big deal. It became all-consuming for us. I just remember how exhausting it was.”
Cook said he doesn’t feel that way about this year’s team. He’s helped them take on a different mindset about how they have to fight for every point. It doesn’t matter if they won the last point, match or 20 in a row.
“The game doesn’t know who’s supposed to win, so that’s how we’ve been framing it all year. So that’s why we don’t worry or talk about it. It can become a real big burden because you’re always trying to protect something. “
Co-captain Merritt Beason said pressure comes with winning and the players can’t do anything to stop it because it isn’t their creation.
“That pressure is going to come with being undefeated and you can’t really do anything about it,” the junior opposite said. “You can control how you react to it and how you respond to it. We’ve done a very good job of just being where we are and kind of minimizing the outside voices.”
Beason said the team has worked on narrowing its focus to the task at hand. Whether that’s only looking at the next opponent, being intentional in practice or living in the moment.
Staying present is a skill that NU has worked on. The players remind each other when their minds wander, and the staff helps too. Beason said it’s OK to let it go sometimes because they’ve been working toward these moments the entire year and want to appreciate what they’ve accomplished.
“This is what we’ve been dreaming of as a team since January,” she said. “We’re kind of getting to live out those dreams, but also just reminding each other to stay present in the moment has helped us a ton.”
Cook sounded more optimistic about Lindsay Krause practicing this week. He didn’t say it would happen but didn’t rule it out.
The junior outside hitter has been out since injuring her ankle in practice on Oct. 17. She’s been working with athletic trainer Jolene Emricson and strength coach Brian Kmitta.
Krause no longer uses crutches or a walking boot and was jumping with the team during the locker room celebration on Sunday. The key now is how her body reacts to the training session and how sore she is.
“She’s ramping up every day,” Cook said. “It’s just how fast we can push her. I don’t know how she recovered from yesterday today, but we’re going to push as hard as we can.”
Beason knew how big volleyball was in Nebraska when she transferred from Florida after last season, but nothing could have prepared her for the everyday interactions.
On her official visit, Beason went to dinner with Lexi Rodriguez and the coaching staff. An older woman approached their table and, according to Beason, was in tears while asking Rodriguez for a picture.
Now Beason is the one getting stopped during a Target run for photos and well-wishes from fans.
“It’s really, really special, especially for women’s sports, to have that,” Beason said. “Every single day, I’m so grateful to be a part of it and grateful to be in the position that I am because it’s very, very special. You can’t find that a lot of places.”
Freshman setter Bergen Reilly told a story on the “Six Rotations” podcast about how she and some teammates were riding downtown on electric scooters during the summer and were recognized by a group on a party bike.
“It just shows that Lincoln is all about volleyball,” Reilly said. “Nebraska really does have a huge love for volleyball.”
More Weekly Awards
Rodriguez picked up another award on Monday as the Big Ten recognized her as the defensive player of the week for the second time this season. It’s her fifth career weekly DPOW honor.
The junior averaged 5.67 digs per set last week as she helped NU hold its opponents to a .086 hitting percentage. She also chipped in six assists.
For the season, Nebraska has won 17 awards over the 13 weeks of the season. It’s been recognized all but two of the weeks, only missing Sept. 5 and Sept. 11.
In addition to Rodriguez, Beason has won four player-of-the-week honors, and Krause has won one; Reilly was named top setter four times and the best freshman twice. Harper Murray earned three freshman awards, while Andi Jackson was recognized once.
Nebraska took a business-like approach following a win over Michigan on Friday when it clinched a share of the Big Ten title. The Huskers let loose on Sunday afternoon, claiming sole possession of the championship.
The Huskers stormed the court for a dog pile celebration after Laney Choboy recorded an ace for the final point to cap off a 25-21, 25-21, 25-15 victory over Iowa.
The party was on.
When he entered the locker room, NU coach John Cook was doused with water. He jumped around with the players, emulating a Brazilian celebration they saw this past summer. The Huskers then donned commemorative hats and shirts before breaking out into a dance party. Cook addressed the team while Zach Bryan’s song “Revival” played in the background. Finally, Grace McNamara from the Big Ten presented the trophy to the team with more cheers and screaming.
“It’s a celebration of all the hard work that we put in this entire season,” junior opposite Merritt Beason said. “We work so hard for the person next to us. It’s more for the person next to us and for our coaching staff and everyone else more than it is for ourselves.”
Cook said he was surprised by the emotional reaction of the players.
Even though the Huskers (27-0, 18-0 Big Ten) clinched its first league title since 2017 on the road, they had plenty of fans to celebrate with. Most of the 4,535 fans inside the Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa, wore red and made their presence felt.
Cook said he told the players to soak in the atmosphere.
“Our fans showed up here and it made it feel like a home match,” he said. “If you can’t win this at home, being here with that big of crowd, that’s really, really pretty cool.”
Nebraska didn’t play its best volleyball most of the match as Iowa (8-22, 0-18) hung with the Huskers. NU took a 6-2 lead in the first set, but its advantage never exceeded seven points.
The second set was also close. The Huskers went on a 5-1 run to stake a 12-8 lead, but Iowa clawed back to tie it at 16-all. NU put away the set by winning five of the final seven rallies.
The Hawkeyes jumped to an 8-4 lead in the third set before NU stormed back. However, with the score tied 13-all, the Huskers put their foot down. It won all but two remaining points, including a stretch of seven in a row.
The Huskers hit .233 for the match, their fifth-lowest total for the season, but made the plays when they needed them.
“You don’t realize it when you’re in it, but we were playing with the pressure of trying to close this thing out,” Cook said. “You saw it at the end there when we finally won the final point. You saw the emotion that they displayed in the locker room. They are one happy group.”
Beason, a co-captain, led the way with 12 kills and eight digs. Ally Batenhorst recorded five kills on seven swings in the first set on her way to nine kills. Outside hitter Harper Murray added five of her nine kills in the fifth set.
Middle blocker Andi Jackson contributed seven kills, while Bekka Allick terminated at a .571 clip on her nine kills. Both recorded three blocks.
Freshman Bergen Reilly amassed 37 assists and nine digs and had three blocks.
Even though the Hawkeyes outblocked NU 8-5, the floor defense stood firm. Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 19 digs as the Huskers recorded 59 for the match. Five players tallied at least eight digs.
“I think we’ve been saying it since Day 1, but this group of girls is extremely competitive, and every single person on this team challenges us in practice every day,” Rodriguez said. “The freshmen are so competitive and they want to win so bad and that has truly helped us get to where we are today.”
Iowa put up a good fight led by nine kills from Caitlan Buettner. Nataly Moravec added eight for the Hawkeyes, which hit .121 for the match.
Cook said the team talked about a conference championship starting in January. Players put posters up and weren’t shy about their goals.
“It’s not something you just decide on Sept. 22 that you’re going to win the Big Ten,” he said. “It’s a year-long process.”
The Huskers started strong with sweeps against Ohio State and Minnesota. They won critical five-set road matches at Penn State and Purdue.
Perhaps, most importantly, NU slayed Wisconsin at home, snapping a 10-match losing streak to the Badgers. After all the work, Nebraska also ended Wisconsin’s four-year reign atop the conference.
Before the season, Nebraska was picked to finish second in the Big Ten. The roster featured six newcomers. From the outside perspective, all the new faces left a lot of uncertainty, but the Huskers knew their potential early in the process.
Those players quickly bonded through beach season, spring volleyball and a trip to Brazil. They conquered all their opponents this season and claimed their spoils on Sunday.
“We knew how good of a team we were going to be and I don’t think other people knew really what to expect because we are such a new and fresh team this year,” Beason said. “We knew we had the talent. We knew the chemistry that we had is something that you can’t find all the time. We knew it was going to be special.”