Larson Finding Her Way as Assistant Coach. Cook: ‘She’s Been Awesome”

By Lincoln Arneal

Jordan Larson hasn’t revolutionized the coaching world or dramatically altered the trajectory of the top-ranked Nebraska volleyball team. 

That isn’t to say she hasn’t had an impact during her first month as an assistant coach for the Huskers. The former All-American and Olympic gold medalist has brought new drills, offered insights and added to the culture since arriving on Sept. 26. 

“It just feels right having her here,” NU coach John Cook said. “It just feels so great to have another coach, and I think it takes some pressure off of me a little bit. I can see the big picture. She’s been awesome.”

For example, while Cook talked to the media Tuesday morning, Larson was having coffee with a player. 

Cook said his days get filled up quickly, but having Larson as an additional assistant coach has allowed the NU staff to have better coverage with the players and connect with them during the day and after practice and make sure everyone is good. 

In her time with the program, Larson has kept a low profile for the most part. She isn’t taking over huddles or barking out orders in practice. She’s more likely to stand back, observe and then pull a player to the side to give her a tip on how to improve her play or how to fix an issue plaguing the team. 

While she primarily works with outside hitters, Larson offers lessons in passing, attacking and blocking to the entire team. Through these observations, she builds rapport with all the players. 

Cook said Larson has an excellent feel for how to deal with players based on her time serving as a captain at Nebraska and the U.S. national team, along with her lengthy professional career. 

“She just has a way and has a feel of what’s going on or what players need or what the team needs at that time,” Cook said. “That’s not stuff you really teach. She’s probably not going to learn that around me because I’m not wired that way.”

Following the Olympic qualifiers in September, Larson shut down her training to allow herself to recover. Slowly, she’s starting to get back in shape with the hopes to play professionally next spring and participate in the Paris Games. 

Larson has begun to work out in the weight room but hasn’t jumped into too many drills on the practice court. For now, she’s helping with passing drills and served for the first time this week. 

Cook said he doesn’t know if she will eventually work her way into playing six-on-six with the B side. He hasn’t talked to her about when she’ll be ready to be more active on the court, but she doesn’t need the reps right now.

“I don’t think she’s ready for that. She took a long break,” he said. “I think when you’re that old, you got to pace yourself.”

Even though Larson will take a sabbatical after the season to continue playing through the summer, Cook said he has been impressed with her work ethic and dedication to becoming a coach in her first month with the program.

“I feel like it’s very natural for her,” he said. “I feel like she loves it. She’s just probably born to be a coach. With somebody like that, you think, ‘OK, I’m sick of it,’ I think she really really enjoys it.”

Reilly Racks Up More Awards

Bergen Reilly was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday, the second time she’s earned the honor. She’s also been the league’s top setter for three weeks this season. 

The NU setter averaged 11.3 assists per set while leading the Huskers to hitting .366 in wins over Maryland and Rutgers. Reilly also tallied five kills, 12 digs and three blocks last week.

Big Broadcast Numbers

Another week, another record for college volleyball. 

Eight days ago, Nebraska and Wisconsin set a regular season record for viewership with 612,000 people watching their match on BTN on Oct. 21. 

On Sunday, FOX showed a pair of volleyball matches for the first time opposite its single NFL window and drew 1,659,000 viewers for Michigan-Ohio State and Minnesota-Wisconsin. A large portion of that watched the latter matchup, which followed the early slate of football games, including one between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. 

“It takes it up another notch,” Cook said. “That’s great to see. I know they put it on after the Packer game, which is good timing. That’s awesome for the Big Ten and awesome for volleyball. We got another record to go after.”

The previous high for any college volleyball number was 1.188 million for the 2021 NCAA championship match between Nebraska and Wisconsin on ESPN2. 

While Nebraska has played four matches this season on Sunday, only two were televised by BTN in the evening. Cook said he’s open to playing more games then, but it’s not up to him. 

“I never have the opportunity to push for that. That’s all done through the Big Ten,” he said. “We have no say in that or opportunity to give feedback. I know the more viewers, the better.”

At the Middle of the Swirling Storm That is NU’s Offense, Setter Bergen Reilly Seems to Pull All the Right Levers.

By Lincoln Arneal

The pass was long and off-target.

It pulled Bergen Reilly from her position in the setter’s slot and right into the attack route being run by middle blocker Bekka Allick. 

Rather than bail on the called play and send up an easy set to the left pin, Allick quickly called for a change, and Reilly altered her set from a quick attack in front of her to a back set touch while contorting her body so she was almost facing the net. The adjustment allowed Allick to stay on her path and slam the ball to the court for a kill.

The point may easily slip from memory in the overall scheme of the match. It gave Nebraska a 6-3 lead in the second set during a sweep against No. 21 Ohio State. But the seemingly common play speaks to the talent of Reilly.

It was anything but common. Reilly just made it look that way. 

It’s something her teammates are growing used to, and Reilly credits them for the success. They have a connection, and it grows with each match. 

“It was a difficult pass so Bekka made an audible – she wasn’t on what I originally told her, but she called something different,” Reilly said of that point. “We’ve really been working on getting the middles up regardless of where the pass is in less than ideal situations trying to find them. I think that that was a really good call by Bekka and then we made it work.”

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02 Bergen Reilly, 05 Bekka Allick

Even though she defers to her teammates, Reilly is leading an offensive renaissance. During the last two seasons, NU has finished the season at .222 and .244, respectively. With the 6-foot-1 freshman running the show and with several new attackers, the Huskers are hitting close to .300, which they haven’t hit for a season since 2007 when the team featured Jordan Larson and Sarah Pavan. 

While many factors go into a high-attacking efficiency – serve receive, passing quality, attackers’ prowess – the setter is at the center of it. 

“A setter can raise the level (of an offense) just like a quarterback can raise the level of an offense if they can run and throw and be accurate and make good decisions,” NU coach John Cook said. 

If a setter is doing her job, fans might not notice her at all. 

They rarely thump big kills, make diving saves or get involved in momentum-shifting blocks. However, the setter is the most important player on the court, usually touching the ball each rally, sometimes multiple times. 

Cook compared Reilly to an option quarterback and said she is like Husker football great Tommie Frazier. Their jobs are similar as they both need to read the defense and distribute the ball accordingly.

Setters have multiple decisions to make each rally. She can go quick to the middle, throw it out to the left pin or behind her to the right pin. She can also set it up for the back row or send the ball over on second contact. 

All these decisions are influenced by the quality of pass she receives, what rotation the Huskers are in and what read she makes on the defense, among other factors. 

“She’s making that decision in a very quick time,” Cook said.

To handle those split-second decisions, Nebraska works with the setters during film study on situations they might encounter during a match. They also review previous matches and discuss what worked, what didn’t and what might have been better.

Assistant coach Kelly Hunter said coaches don’t want to be so rigid that they establish rules for the setter. But she does want the setter to understand what might work on any given play. That way, Reilly knows what to do during matches and takes what is presented.

“She’s able to take more risks rather than just making the safe set,” Hunter said. “There’s some organicness there, and she’s able just to react and hear where her hitters are at and not be scared to set anyone at any given moment.”

Reilly came to Nebraska with an impressive resume. The Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native helped the U.S. junior national team win the U19 Pan Am Cup, earning best setter honors, and took the bronze at the U18 World Championships. She was also the first high schooler in more than three decades to play with the U.S. senior national team. As a top-five prospect, Reilly was the South Dakota Gatorade Player of the Year three times and won two state championships at O’Gorman High School. 

Hunter said Reilly arrived with all the tools to be a great setter – technique, a calm demeanor and consistency – and her confidence has grown through beach season, spring practices and the Brazil trip. 

“It’s normal for any freshmen coming into our program to be a little hesitant or nervous,” Hunter said. “I think she just gained some confidence and is a little bit more vocal. She’ll say what she’s thinking a little bit more and give more feedback rather than just kind of coming in and being someone who just sets goals every day. She’s a little bit more of a setter instead of just a ball distributor.”

It wasn’t a given that Reilly would guide the Husker offense. She battled junior Kennedi Orr, who has a long list of accolades herself, for the job. During the off-season, Cook said the two were dead even and split time against Wichita State in April and during the international trip. 

Reilly earned the start for the season opener and hasn’t missed any action since. Orr helped her acclimate to college volleyball and the two remain close. 

Orr, the No. 1 prospect in the 2020 class, said Reilly has great hands and is technically sound. In addition, her demeanor steadies the team. 

“She’s so composed, especially for being a freshman,” Orr said. “It’s really easy to get caught up in leading an offense and just trying to lead the team in general as a setter has to do. I think Bergen is very integral to how our team keeps their cool, especially in tough moments. That’s super powerful.”

Reilly is the second true freshman at Nebraska to begin her career as the starting setter, joining Nicklin Hames in the exclusive club. Since arriving in January, she has made progress in finding the right tempo to run NU’s offense. Doing so can create one-on-one matchups for hitters or help create favorable matchups. 

The most important aspect of the offensive tempo isn’t the speed but the consistency so hitters know what to expect and time their runs for a strong connection. 

“She makes really great decisions, she sees the court really well and she sees the blocker on the other side,” junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst said. “Her court awareness is very advanced, and I think that’s really helpful for us. We have holes in the block all the time.”

NU assistant coach Jaylen Reyes provided a film breakdown on social media showing what Reilly does that makes her elite. He said her posture and hand position stays neutral and she doesn’t give away her potential setting destination. She understands how to get hitters involved and build their confidence. If a hitter commits an error, Reilly will return to them quickly. 

While Reilly is pulling the strings on the offense, she has plenty of help from NU’s attackers. Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson has one of the best-attacking percentages in the nation.

Junior transfer Merritt Beason and freshman Harper Murray have provided plenty of firepower and new dimensions to the NU offense. According to Chad Gordon, who runs the volleyball analysis website, Murray statistically is the top back-row attacker in the country, and Beason is just not too far behind at No. 11. 

Hunter said most teams take two approaches to back-row attacks – let hitters play six rotations or prioritize passing and substitute in defensive specialists. Because Murray and Beason are solid back-row defenders, they can play all the way around and provide more attacking. 

Defense and depth have also fueled NU’s offense. It helps to have All-American Lexi Rodrigeuz and touted freshman Laney Choboy passing the ball to Reilly in-system and putting her in position to have multiple hitters available. 

Nebraska’s bevvy of talent has also paid off. NU can plug in a player from the bench without a dropoff when someone suffers an injury or struggles during a match. Lindsay Krause and Batenhorst have switched off at the L2 position. Maggie Mendelson has stepped in at middle blocker for stretches. 

Reilly said the team prides itself on having depth and relying on their connections on the court. 

“It can be hard for other people coming in, but I think we all have that ultimate trust,” she said. “It’s really not a big issue if we have to put other people in, and I think that’s what makes this team so special.”

For all the success Nebraska had during the first two months of the season, the hard part is still ahead. The deeper the Huskers get into the Big Ten schedule, the more teams will be familiar with them and the more video they will have of NU’s tendencies. 

Hunter said NU scouts itself, studying statistics and habits like they would an opponent. They don’t want a predictable attack and work to stay fresh. She said the most important work they do is to be good at their strengths first and then worry about what the other team is doing. 

For Reilly, she’s not worried about inexperience yet. She’s focused on continuing to build her relationship with her teammates and enjoying the ride during her first year at Nebraska. 

“We don’t see ourselves as a young team,” she said. “We know that there’s a lot of new players on the court, but we also have just been trusting our training and trusting that we have that connection. We have that chemistry, and we can go out there and beat anyone.”

Huskers Sweep Scarlet Knights. NU is Last Unbeaten Team in Country

By Lincoln Arneal

LINCOLN – It was business as usual for top-ranked Nebraska on Saturday night.  

Elsewhere, it was pure chaos. Michigan State upset No. 13 Penn State at home for the first time since 2002. Illinois defended its home court and knocked off No. 16 Purdue. 

Then, The Citadel lost its first match of the year, falling in five sets to Western Carolina. 

That leaves the Huskers as the only undefeated team left in the nation. NU improved to 21-0 and 12-0 in the Big Ten with a 25-22, 25-15, 25-12 sweep over Rutgers at the Devaney Center. 

The 22 victories are the Huskers’ best start to a season since they opened 23-0 in 2006. 

“There’s always a burden with that, but what do you do about it?” Cook said about being the last undefeated team. “We’re going to be focused this week on winning Match 13. We don’t really talk about it. We just talk about trying to get better.”

Even though the result was lopsided, the Scarlet Knights (10-12, 2-10) made Nebraska sweat in the first set. 

Rutgers was playing its first match in the Devaney Center since 2019 but still made it competitive. 

The only members of their team that had been inside the arena before were assistant coach Abby Detering, who did so as a player with Penn State, and freshman defensive specialist Kenzie Dyrstad, who played in two state championship matches with Papillion-La Vista South. 

Nebraska struggled with its serve in the first set, missing four in a row that allowed the Scarlet Knights to stay close. The Huskers committed nine service errors in the match, including five in the first set. 

With the score tied at 20-all, Rutgers was called for a center line violation, and then Ally Batenhorst and Andi Jackson teamed up for a block. After a timeout, Merritt Beason added to NU’s cushion with a kill. 

In the second set, Nebraska led 11-10 before winning eight of the next 10 rallies to pull away. 

The Huskers pulled away early in the third set with a 10-0 run with Lexi Rodriguez serving that resulted in a 13-2 advantage. 

Batenhorst powered the Huskers’ attack with a match-high 13 kills and a .545 hitting percentage. On Friday against Maryland, the junior outside hitter had a quiet match with just two kills on seven attacks plus four errors. 

Batenhorst left no doubt with two kills during the first six rallies of the match to equal her output from Friday. She also added four blocks. She kept swinging aggressively, boosting the Huskers’ attack, which finished the match with a .384 hitting percentage. 

“Going into this match, we really wanted to put our foot on the gas and go for it,” Batenhorst said. “I think just coming into this match, I took that to heart. Every set I got, I went for it and it was a good night.”

She said she was just unfortunate because the rotations where she was in the front row cycled through quickly. 

Cook said she had to deal with some tough sets because of her position on the court. Because she shares the front row with Beason and Jackson, when NU passes cleanly, they usually get the attacks, while she has to bail out NU when the offense is out of system.

Cook said he was happy to see Batenhorst bounce back. She said setter Bergen Reilly, who finished with 34 assists, was feeling their connection. 

“She was a force tonight. You could tell she wanted the ball,” he said. “She had a lot of one-on-ones and killed it, and that’s what she gets paid to do.”

Beason added 12 kills at a .409 clip, while Jackson chipped in eight kills and six blocks. Harper Murray tallied five kills. 

Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez led the defense with 13 digs while NU outblocked the Scarlet Knights 9-2.

Sophomore middle blocker Maggie Mendelson earned her fifth start of the season in place of Bekka Allick. Cook said he was looking to get her more playing time and an opportunity to be on the court from the first point. 

She responded with four kills on five swings and added three blocks. 

“Everybody on our team has the capability of playing in any big moment,” Mendelson said. “When we get opportunities like I had tonight, we have to take advantage of it because everybody on our team is just so capable. Today, I really just went in wanting to play free and play with my teammates and just get out there and play volleyball that I know how to play.”

Mendelson will have a busy weekend. The dual-sport athlete plans to be on the bench watching her basketball teammates play Dakota Wesleyan on Sunday in an exhibition. 

The Huskers will have a few days to recover before an East Coast road trip where they take on a Penn State team looking to rebound and the Scarlet Knights again. 

For now, the Huskers are enjoying the ride and not worrying about any pressure from their record or ranking.

“I think possibilities are endless with this group,” Batenhorst said. “I think we’ve really worked hard. We’ve taken every rep and we are very intentional and practice every day. I think that’s shown on the court.”

Don’t Look Now, But NU is One Win From a Bowl. Huskers Down Purdue 31-14 for Fifth Win.

By Steve Beideck 

LINCOLN – If the Huskers can forget those first 10 minutes of Saturday’s win over Purdue, so can you. 

While you’re at it, purge the first couple minutes of the second half from your memory and focus instead on that celebration sprint down the west sideline that turned a potential disaster into a moment to remember. 

Tommi Hill and Quinton Newsome trading high-fives to revel in the touchdown Newsome was about to score off a blocked Boilermakers’ field goal was one for the books. 

And ultimately, so was victory No. 5 – a 31-14 win over Purdue – in a season that is making Nebraska fans feel much warmer than the temperatures. 

Not reflecting on the less-than-desirable plays to start both halves helped the Huskers keep a positive mindset that led to plenty of success later in the game. 

Nebraska is now 5-3 through the first two-thirds of Matt Rhule’s inaugural season as the Huskers’ head coach. NU has not gotten to five wins this fast since 2016, when the Huskers won their first seven games before finishing the season 9-4 with a loss in the Music City Bowl.

As has been well-documented, the Huskers haven’t been to a bowl game since that 2016 trip to Nashville. Nebraska now needs just one win in its final four games to reach the six-victory plateau for the first time since, you guessed it, 2016. 

Because Nebraska now has won five of its past six games after opening the season 0-2, fans can be excused if they begin peeking at bowl projections on myriad websites. 

Rhule might admonish those who look ahead, but in case you were wondering, Nebraska and the Guaranteed Rate Bowl have appeared together a couple of times already in those lists. To get a peek at the venue, watch games three and four of the World Series later this week. 

Now that win No. 5 is in the books, it might actually serve everyone well to take a look at some of the things that didn’t go right for NU against Purdue before sending them to the shredder. 

The first 10 minutes were a brutal display by Nebraska’s special teams and offense; a lesson on how not to start a football game. Once again, Nebraska’s defense saved the day, stuffing Purdue’s first three drives to offset the ineffectiveness of the other two units. 

After fumbling away the opening kickoff, Nebraska’s first drive against the Boilermakers went for minus-13 yards on three plays. The Huskers then couldn’t make hay after an interception by the Blackshirts; three more plays produced just five yards before a 32-yard punt. 

Even the set-up to what was about to become the best drive of the season still made Husker fans wince. It took an official’s review of the

punt Nebraska muffed after the Blackshirts had shut the Boilermakers down following an eight-play, 27-yard drive. 

Alex Bullock bobbled the ball then lost it into a pile of players. Fortunately, Newsome was just outside the scrub. After quickly covering the ball, Newsome was covered by teammate Ty Robinson, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound defensive lineman who wasn’t about to let any Boilermakers near the ball. 

The Nebraska faithful were about to get a reason to stop shivering and start cheering. That’s because the NU offense put together the kind of clock-chewing, third-down-converting march Husker fans have been longing to see all season. 

Beginning with 4:35 remaining in the first quarter and successfully ending 4:17 into the second quarter, the Huskers drove 87 yards in 15 plays to score their first touchdown of the game. It was a 1-yard pass from Heinrich Haarberg to tight end Thomas Fidone, and the PAT by Tristan Alvano put the Huskers ahead 7-0. 

Nebraska converted all three of its third down opportunities in that drive, and all three were pass plays by Haarberg. The drive accounted for half of his pass completions as Haarberg was 6 of 11 for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a net of 22 yards on 19 carries. 

Four plays later the Blackshirts picked off Purdue quarterback Hudson Card, and Nebraska did what opponents have been doing to Nebraska all too often the past six seasons: Making them pay for those mistakes with points.

The Purdue defense forgot to account for freshman wide receiver Jaylen Lloyd. The Omaha Westside graduate blew past every Boilermaker defender down the east sideline, and Haarberg dropped the ball into Lloyd’s hands on the way to a 73-yard touchdown for Nebraska’s longest play of the season. 

Nebraska’s Blackshirts got another three-and-out to start the second half, but a 54-yard punt by Jack Ansell pinned the Huskers on their 12-yard line. On the first snap from scrimmage Haarberg fumbled the ball – one of the four Nebraska lost – and the Boilermakers were presented with their best chance to score. 

The Blackshirts bowed up once again, giving up a 4-yard run and forcing an incomplete pass before Jimari Butler and MJ Sherman combined on an 11-yard sack of Card. The Boilermakers lined up for a 37-yard field goal, but the attempt was blocked by a crashing Elijah Jeudy. 

Newsome scooped up the bouncing ball and sprinted home for a 68-yard touchdown return. Hill was his escort for the final 15 yards into the end zone when they traded high-fives. 

“I love Quinton Newsome,” Rhule said. “We might have battled a little bit on some things here and there. But he’s standing exactly where he’s supposed to be standing. He gets to the level of the kicker and he turns in at the ball. 

“The ball comes to him, he scores a touchdown. Whether he wants it or not, it will be on my teaching tape for the next 10 years.” 

Alvano made a 55-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter to put the Huskers ahead 24-0 before Purdue scored its first points. Jayden

Dixon-Veal caught a 29-yard TD pass from Card, and less than three minutes later linebacker Kydran Jenkins picked up Nebraska’s final fumble and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. 

Any hopes Purdue harbored for a comeback disappeared with just under four minutes remaining in the game. Redshirt freshman running back Emmett Johnson, who led all players with 76 yards on 13 carries, went through the center of the line and went untouched for a 28-yard touchdown. 

Nebraska next travels to East Lansing to play Michigan State on Nov. 4. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 11:01 a.m. CDT and be televised by FS1.

Huskers Keep Foot on Gas, Sweep Maryland. NU Hosts Rutgers Saturday

By Lincoln Arneal

There was no letdown for newly minted No. 1 Nebraska Friday night. 

Coming off an electric win over formerly top-ranked Wisconsin last weekend, the Huskers were clinical in a 25-19, 25-17, 25-9 win over Maryland at the Devaney Center. 

The Huskers scored the first three points of the match and began the following two sets with leads of 4-0 and 8-0, respectively.

Even though Maryland (14-9, 4-7) responded in the first set and took their only leads of the match at 4-3 and 5-4, the Huskers were not challenged most of the match.

While the crowd of 8,667 – the third largest ever at Devaney crowd – took a while to get into it, freshman setter Bergen Reilly said the Huskers wanted to set the tone early. 

“We talk a lot about urgency in our gym, and I think that was exactly what we did at the beginning of the sets,” she said. “We could have done a little better job keeping that throughout the entire set, especially in the first two, but just having urgency from the beginning, taking away any momentum that they did have coming out of breaks and squashing whatever they have going for them.”

As for Harper Murray, she said she still had something to prove after last weekend. The freshman outside hitter hit negative over the first four sets against Wisconsin but then delivered an all-time performance in the fifth set with seven kills on nine swings, including kills for NU’s final four points. 

Murray responded by finishing with 16 kills and a .433 hitting percentage against the Terrapins. She credited Reilly with building her confidence and putting her in positions to terminate. 

“Just coming back and bouncing back from Wisconsin, I just needed to prove myself to myself and my team,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t give everything I could have in the Wisconsin match. So just coming out and try to do my best in this game.”

Reilly, the Big Ten Setter of the Week, filled the stat sheet with 34 assists, 10 digs, three kills on four swings and two blocks. 

Junior opposite Merritt Beason added 10 kills and nine digs. Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson added eight kills on 11 swings and four blocks, which tied Bekka Allick for the match high. 

Nebraska also finished with its cleanest night from the service line in a month. NU snapped a streak of eight straight matches with double-digit service errors, which started against Purdue on Sept. 29. 

Against Maryland, the Huskers missed just seven serves, with five errors in the first set. 

Cook said he challenged the team after the opening set to clean up its serving after what he called one of the best weeks of practices they’ve had. The Huskers responded by erroring twice on their final 49 serves of the match.

Reilly said Cook told the team that it threw out all its training during the first set and it needed to trust its training when serving. 

“We were kind of just fed up with it,” Reilly said about all the service errors over the past month. “We really dialed it in and that was a big part of this win.” 

Beason led the charge for NU with two aces. Reilly served a match-high 21 times and didn’t miss any. She was at the service line when the Huskers started each set with the big runs. 

Cook said sometimes the players lose focus at the end line, but they stepped up Friday. He’s OK with a few service errors if they are stressing the opponent and barely miss, but he doesn’t like the ones that hit the middle of the net or sail 10 feet past the end line. 

“That’s what good serving can do to teams – you just put pressure on them over and over and over and it starts wearing on them,” Cook said. “You saw the result of that because we started really good in Game 2 and really good in Game 3.” 

Maryland finished with just 21 kills. Sam Csire led the Terps with seven kills as she recorded four of their five kills in the third set. Maryland hit .023 for the match. 

With the win, Nebraska (20-0, 11-0) equaled its best start since the 2008 team won its first 20 matches.

The Huskers will return to action Saturday night as they take on Rutgers at 7:30. The Scarlet Knights picked up their second conference win Friday with a 25-21, 24-26, 21-25, 25-21, 15-9 victory against Iowa.

Endicott Joins HOF 

Earlier on Friday, former All-American Lori Endicott was inducted into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame. She was recognized between the first two sets. 

The 5-foot-9 Springfield, Missouri, native played opposite on the 1986 national runner-up team. She transitioned to setter her junior year and started setting records immediately. She still holds the record for assists in a match with 109 against Texas in 1988. Endicott was the first Husker to be named conference player of the year, earning the honor in 1987 and 1988. 

She was the first Nebraska volleyball player to make the U.S. national team, serving as the starting setter in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in the Barcelona Games in 1992. 

Lots of work ahead for No. 1 Huskers. Next up: Maryland and Rutgers

By Lincoln Arneal 

Sunday was for celebrating. Monday, it was back to work. 

After knocking off No. 1 Wisconsin on Saturday night, the Nebraska volleyball team took time to savor breaking a 10-match losing streak to the Badgers. However, the season didn’t end over the weekend, and the Huskers  (19-0, 10-0 Big Ten) still have plenty of work to do. 

Nebraska, which took over the No. 1 ranking this week, will host Maryland (14-8, 4-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Rutgers (9-11, 1-9) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. 

“We can’t think that we won the national championship just because we won on Saturday,” freshman setter Bergen Reilly said. “We understand that was a big win, but we have (10) more games in the Big Ten. Then we still have to go to the tournament. We realized there’s a lot more season left that we have to work towards.”

NU coach John Cook said it didn’t take him long to calm down after the exciting victory. However, he didn’t get to enjoy his day off much. He was up by 6:30 a.m. to take his wife to the airport on Sunday morning. 

“I try to get my eight hours asleep the best I can and go on to the next one,” he said. 

Cook aimed to keep the team fresh by giving most of the regulars the day off on Monday in what he called a “mixed day.”  The starters still had video review and recovery, but he didn’t want the reserves to go four days without getting on the court. 

Freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy said when everyone was back in the gym on Tuesday, they talked about refocusing on the task at hand and continuing to take the season match-by-match. 

“We have a bigger goal than just beating Wisconsin,” she said. 

Cook said human nature is to take a step back after an emotional high, but his job is to ensure they are prepared for the challenges ahead. The Huskers should be aided by a similar experience from the beginning of the season after they played in front of a once-in-a-lifetime crowd of 92,003 fans at Memorial Stadium and then played a road match four days later. 

The season has been a learning curve with so many new players contributing. He said playing Ohio State and Minnesota during the first week helped acclimate them, and then back-to-back road trips showed them the grind. Now, they have a good grasp of the fight it takes to be successful in the Big Ten. 

Two-thirds of the way through the season, Cook said teams are either improving or falling apart. 

“Nobody stays the same,” he said. “It’s a mental battle, and we’ve been talking about this since January.”

Cook said NU still has a lot of areas to improve upon in the second half of the league schedule but declined to go into specifics. 

Against Wisconsin, the Huskers showed improvement in dealing with the Badgers block. Wisconsin recorded 18 stuffs, including 12 in the second set alone. Reilly called it one of the most challenging matches she’s played in, and she learned a lot about decision-making and dealing with a big block. 

NU will face another stiff defensive challenge in Maryland, which is third in the Big Ten with 2.52 blocks per set. Anastasia Russ and Eva Rohrbach both average more than 1.1 blocks per set. 

Against the Badgers, Reilly and the Huskers eventually adjusted by being more aggressive and attacking the block more. Reilly also recorded four kills against Wisconsin, which forces the defense to focus more on her and creates openings for her hitters. 

“They’re big and they’re going to get their big blocks, but you can’t be scared of it,” Reilly said. “It’s just trusting our offense and trusting our training and knowing that whatever happens over there, if they get a block, we move on and we just keep going at it.”

Cook also issued a challenge to the Nebraska fans this week. After packing the Devaney Center with a record 9,198 fans, Cook said he wants the fans to continue to provide a home-court advantage.

“Let’s put out the challenge right now,” he said. “We have five home matches left. We want our crowd that energized and that student section energized for all five of those matches.”

Now No. 1 Huskers proving volleyball can be a television draw. Numbers show NU is Becoming Must-See TV

By Lincoln Arneal

First, Nebraska volleyball set the attendance record at Memorial Stadium. Now, they are outdrawing the football team on television. 

After hosting a venue-record 92,003 fans for Volleyball Day in Nebraska, the Huskers’ thrilling five-set win over then-top ranked Wisconsin on Saturday night drew an estimated 612,000 viewers. 

Hours earlier, also on BTN, 560,000 people watched the Nebraska-Northwestern football game. 

“Did we ever think that day would happen? Probably not,” NU coach John Cook said. “This whole year for volleyball has kind of gone crazy with fans and viewership. … It’s great to see and I’m sure the Big Ten is very happy.”

Not only did the Huskers outdraw the football team on television, but they attracted the largest audience to watch a regular-season volleyball match. 

The previous record was also between the Huskers and Badgers. More than 587,000 viewers tuned in to BTN on Black Friday – Nov. 25, 2022 – to watch Wisconsin clinch its fourth straight Big Ten title. 

Husker volleyball games are drawing lots of eyeballs to television screens. For the season, Nebraska is averaging a viewership of 344,909 on 11 cable broadcasts – 10 BTN and one on ESPN.

Earlier this year 466,000 viewers tuned in for Nebraska-Stanford on ESPN on Tuesday, Sept. 12, for that network’s largest regular season audience. An estimated 518,000 people watched Volleyball Day in Nebraska on BTN, which is the third-largest TV audience for regular season volleyball.  

BTN volleyball broadcasts are up 13% this year to 142,000 per match. NU has averaged 332,800 on the network. Its smallest audience was 181,000 on a Sunday night against Kentucky.

Cook said the big ratings are a credit to the work of Sue Maryott, who worked for Nebraska Public Media for 20 years before joining BTN as a senior coordinating producer in 2015. 

The network highlighted the showdown between No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 2 Nebraska during its morning football show and ran previews for the match almost every commercial break during the NU football game. 

“I’m not surprised. They did a great job of promoting that match,” Cook said. “The biggest thing is the match delivered. It was a great match and people are still fascinated by it and still talking about it.”

The TV record for any volleyball match was the 2021 national championship match between Nebraska and Wisconsin which drew 1,188,000 viewers. 

Wisconsin and Minnesota could put up big TV numbers this weekend as the border rivals will play on Sunday on FOX network following the NFL game between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. 

Ohio State and Michigan also play on FOX Sunday. Since the network has a single NFL window, the two games will be shown in the time slot opposite football in regionalized markets. 

2023 Nebraska TV Broadcast Viewership

Wed., Aug. 30 — Omaha, 518,000

Wed., Sept. 6 — Creighton, 236,000

Tues., Sept. 12 — Stanford, 466,000*

Sun., Sept. 17 — Kentucky, 181,000

Fri., Sept. 22 — Ohio State, 265,000

Sun., Sept. 24 — Minnesota, 347,000

Fri., Sept. 29 — Purdue, 265,000

Sat., Sept. 30 — Indiana, 328,000

Sat. Oct. 7 — Michigan, 229,000

Sat., Oct. 14 — Penn State, 347,000

Sat., Oct. 21 — Wisconsin, 612,000


Honors Abound

Merritt Beason was named the AVCA/GameChanger Women’s Division I Player of the Week on Tuesday, a day after she earned the Big Ten Player of the Week honors. 

The junior opposite recorded 34 kills (4.25 per set) to go with 14 digs, five blocks and two aces in wins over Northwestern and Wisconsin. Beason put up 21 kills in NU’s five-set win over the No. 1 Badgers.

It is the first time a Nebraska player has received the national award since Annika Albrecht did so on Sept. 26, 2017. Beason won the Big Ten award for the third time this season. 

Also, Bergen Reilly earned her third Big Ten Setter of the Week award this season on Monday. The NU freshman averaged 11.0 assists and 2.88 digs per set last week. She had 50 assists and a career-high 17 digs against Wisconsin. She also recorded six kills, three blocks and three aces over the two matches. 

On Top Again

After defeating Wisconsin, the Huskers moved to the top of the rankings this week. NU earned 63 of 64 first-place votes in the AVCA coaches poll and all of 12 in the VolleyballMag’s media poll. The Huskers also sit atop the RPI standing, which is used to help determine postseason seedings. 

Wisconsin fell to No. 2 followed by Stanford, Louisville and Texas. 

With the move to No. 1, Nebraska has reached the top of the polls a nation-leading 103 times. The Huskers have reached No. 1 in 14 of John Cook’s 24 years at NU, including six of the past nine seasons.

Krause Recovering

Cook said Lindsay Krause’s ankle injury she suffered last week was not season ending. 

“She’ll be back,” he said. 

Krause began walking on a treadmill and doing exercises in the pool this past weekend.

The junior outside hitter was injured on Tuesday during practice and missed NU’s matches against Northwestern and Wisconsin. 

Crunch-Time Belief

During Nebraska’s 10-match losing streak to Wisconsin, the two teams played 10 sets that were decided by two points. The Huskers won only one of those – the fourth set in the 2021 title game. 

On Saturday, the Huskers prevailed twice by a pair of points: 26-24 in the fourth and then 15-13 in the fifth. 

Cook said this team understands how to win those close games and they are not afraid to try to make plays. 

“They’ve got the confidence and the belief to do it,” he said. “Every game comes down right to the end, and those guys believe they’re gonna win.”

Husker Freshmen Rise to the Occasion. NU Moves to Top of Big Ten Standings

By Lincoln Arneal

On Saturday morning, Harper Murray’s phone buzzed. 

It was a text message from Nebraska assistant coach Jaylen Reyes to Murray and the other NU freshmen. Reyes reminded the group of a promise they made on their official visit a year earlier where they witnessed the Huskers lose to Wisconsin. 

That wouldn’t be happening again. 

Murray and her classmates helped Nebraska topple the top-ranked Badgers Saturday night in five sets and put the rest of the nation on notice that NU is a national title favorite. 

“We didn’t even play our best, and we still pulled out a win,” the 6-foot-2 outside hitter said. “The freshmen, we know we have big roles on this team and we have to prove that by just having that mentality and going up every day just swinging.”

The freshmen did their part to put the second-ranked Huskers on the top of the Big Ten standings midway through the season. Wisconsin relied upon two fifth-year players, four seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, but the Huskers’ youth won the day. 

Murray finished with a flurry with seven of her 14 kills coming in the decisive fifth set to go with 15 digs. 

After struggling to handle Wisconsin’s block for most of the match, the Ann Arbor, Michigan, native carried the Huskers down the stretch, taking some of the most important swings of the match. Murray delivered a kill when the Huskers faced match point in the fourth set. Then she terminated three straight rallies that put NU on top 14-12 in the fifth set. 

She wasn’t the only freshman to help deliver on their promise. Middle blocker Andi Jackson recorded eight kills and four blocks. Setter Bergen Reilly amassed 50 assists, 17 digs, four kills and three blocks. Defensive specialist Laney Choboy tallied 11 digs. 

“All of our freshmen stepped up at very big moments during that match,” junior Merritt Beason said. “They all just have a ton of confidence in themselves and they know what they bring to the game.”

With Wisconsin leading 3-2 in the first set, Jackson demonstrated this was a different NU team than in previous years. The freshman middle blocker ran a quick attack and slammed home a kill before the Badger block could get set up. 

While the Huskers’ grit, determination and resilience helped fuel the rally, their speed and athleticism was evident on the court. The Badgers had trouble keeping up early against NU’s energy. 

Once UW’s block adjusted, Reilly had to work to put her hitters in a better position. Reilly also teamed up with Jackson to provide the final point that snapped a 30-set winning streak by Wisconsin with a block to take the first set. 

Choboy was the Huskers’ best server, accounting for 13 points on her serve, including critical stretches in each of the sets NU won. 

NU coach John Cook said Choboy was his most valuable player of the match. Beason called her a constant source of energy. 

“She’s a firecracker,” Beason said. “She lights the fire and gives us the energy that we need in those moments. She’s a very emotional player and she brings it day in and day out.”

Behind all of the freshmen is John Cook. The longtime NU coach placed his trust in the newcomers early this year and set them loose. They’ve rewarded his belief in them and become one of the most fun teams he’s been around. 

As a result, Nebraska has exorcized the ghosts that have haunted them. The Huskers won at Stanford after losing their last five matches to the Cardinal dating back to 2008. They made it through the nonconference undefeated for the first time since 2016.

Then came the big one on Saturday, 

NU broke a 10-match losing streak to its conference rival. The win put the Huskers in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title race and upped the stakes for next month’s Black Friday return match. 

But for now, Cook and the players are enjoying the moment. 

Beason said Cook set NU up for success by making the task more manageable. Instead of falling victim to the hype of the most significant regular season match, Cook kept the players focused on the midweek matchup against Northwestern and then instilled belief in them for the Wisconsin match. 

After the rest of the Huskers went to the locker room, Beason remained on the court with Cook to do a post-match television interview. While waiting, she watched Cook celebrate with some of the 1,200 students who attended the match, donning one of the red cowboy hats students were given for the match. 

Beason said the scene was surreal and the “coolest thing ever.” She plans to make all her teammates watch the celebration video to soak it all up.

“I think those are just the moments that make all the sacrifices that we make worth it,” she said. “It was very special.”

No. 2 Takes Down No. 1 In Five-Set Thriller. Huskers End 10-Match losing Streak To Wisconsin

By Lincoln Arneal

Bergen Reilly knew. Assistant coach Kelly Hunter encouraged Nebraska coach John Cook to challenge the play. Why not? The Huskers had nothing to lose. 

With the scoreboard reading 14-14, Cook pulled his last challenge card of the match to request officials take a look at the previous play, which resulted in a Wisconsin point after Harper Murray’s attack sailed long. 

The down official reviewed the film for less than a minute, seeing that Wisconsin’s CC Crawford had grazed the net with her hip, and then reversed the call, thus awarding the point and the match to Nebraska.

The announcement sparked an emotional party for the record 9,198 fans in the Devaney Center. The players rushed the court and exchanged hugs, a few tears were shed and the students mobbed Cook who wore a red cowboy hat, giveaways to the student section before the match. 

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The second-ranked Huskers completed a wild rally to knock off No. 1 Wisconsin 25-22, 17-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-13 Saturday night. With the win, Nebraska (19-0, 10-0) ended a 10-match losing streak against their Big Ten rival and will undoubtedly be the top team when the new polls come out on Monday. 

“Thank goodness they gave me an extra green card in Game 5,” Cook said. “I did my job and got the final point.”

Merritt Beason said NU wasn’t sure Wisconsin was in the net, but they saw it move and knew that Murray didn’t touch it, so they encouraged Cook to pull the green card. 

“Coach (Cook) was kind of hesitant at first and we’re just like, ‘Coach, like you might as well. What do we have to lose at this point?’” she said. “We probably would have liked it to end a little more on a kill or some huge play, but at the end of the day, we got the win and that’s all that matters.”

The wild finish capped off a slugfest between the top two teams in the country. The Huskers hit a season-low .130 and finished with 44 attack errors. 

Beason, who led the Huskers with a match-high 21 kills, the same amount she recorded last year when she beat Wisconsin while playing for Florida, said NU never had any doubt even with all the mistakes. 

“This team is very gritty and very resilient,” she said. “We’ve been talking a lot this year about winning in the ugly no matter what. We always find a way and I think that’s one of our biggest strengths. We’re just going to have each other’s backs and figure out a way to get around it.”

After the Huskers won the first set by riding a 6-0 run that gave them a 9-4 advantage early, the Badgers regrouped and imposed their will on the match with their block. 

UW (18-1, 9-1) recorded 12 stuffs in the second set as the Huskers hit minus-.077 with 12 kills and 16 errors. The Badgers still controlled the third set with an early 11-5 lead, but the Huskers gained a little momentum late with a 5-1 run that cut the deficit to 23-20. The rally, which included a point where Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield was given a yellow card, got the crowd back into it. 

“You could feel our crowd willing us to keep going,” Cook said. “My ears are ringing right now. The crowd was awesome tonight and fired up and you can just feel it. Even though it’s Match 10 in the Big Ten, there was definitely a little something extra tonight.”

Harper Murray struggled most of the match before finding her groove in the fifth set. The freshman outside hitter amassed seven kills and 10 errors on 35 swings during the first four sets.

Murray previewed her turnaround late in the fourth set with a kill when the Badgers had match point, leading 24-23. Wisconsin was called for a blocking violation, one of their seven in the match, on the next point, before Bekka Allick sent the match to a fifth set with a kill.

In the deciding set, Murray terminated on seven of her nine attacks, including three straight kills that gave NU a 14-12 lead. After Sarah Franklin notched her 17th kill of the match to fend off a Husker match point, Murray came through on the final rally. 

Cook said he chewed Murray out during a timeout in the fourth set, but she responded well in the clutch. He said Murray passed well – she was flawless on her 45 serve receives and recorded 15 digs – and delivered several vital serves in the fourth set. 

“She’s a competitor and I’m super proud of her that she was able to find a way,” he said. “I told her in Game 5, ‘We’re going to get to rotations five and six, and you’re gonna have to kill some balls because you’re gonna have opportunities.’”

During Murray’s personal 3-0 run, Laney Choboy started the rallies at the service line. She served a match-high 23 times and missed only one while forcing Wisconsin to make tough passes. The freshman defensive specialist also recorded 11 digs and passed 29 Wisconsin serves. 

“If I had to give an MVP tonight it might be Laney,” Cook said. “She made some digs that just inspired our side. I thought she played really, really well tonight. She’s not in the stats and nobody’s talking about her. She was a difference-maker for us tonight.”

Reilly finished with 50 assists and 17 digs to go with four kills. Libero Lexi Rodriguez also recorded 17 digs and notched her first kill of the season.  

Andi Jackson added eight kills, while Bekka Allicked had seven. 

The Badgers hit .223 for the match. Devyn Robinson returned from missing the last three matches with an injury to record 10 kills and five blocks. Temi Thomas-Ailara added 11 kills. 

Crawford and Carter Booth recorded nine blocks but combined for just seven kills. 

Even though they are just halfway through the Big Ten season, Cook said beating Wisconsin – something that hasn’t happened since 2017 – sets up this year’s team for more success. This win builds on what the Huskers already did with a win at Stanford and starting the Big Ten season with victories against Minnesota and Ohio State. 

“Over the years of coaching, you’re looking for big wins like this,” he said. “That when you’re down and you come back, it’ll give us a big shot of confidence and belief in our team. You can’t manufacture that. You can’t train it in practice. It’s just something that has to happen throughout the season. Then this was the next really big one. This gives them a stronger, deeper belief.”

NU Defense Rises Again, Snuffs Out Northwestern in 17-9 Win. Huskers Have Now Won Four of Last Five 

By Steve Beideck

Last season it took Nebraska 12 games to get to four victories. 

The Huskers reached that milestone Saturday in just their seventh game with a 17-9 victory over Northwestern in a Big Ten West showdown between 3-3 teams. 

Nebraska last was 4-3 in 2019, reaching that mark with a 13-10 win over Northwestern. The Huskers then lost five of their final six to finish 5-7. That was the start of a downward spiral in which Nebraska won only three games in 2020 and 2021 before posting just four in the tumultuous 2022 campaign. 

To this point the 2023 campaign doesn’t have a gloom-and-doom feel like the four seasons under Scott Frost or the final year of the Mike Riley era in 2017. 

While many fans are hoping the Huskers get to six victories and a bowl game for the first time since 2016, results around the Big Ten West provide at least a glimmer of hope for more success over the next five weeks. 

Saturday’s was an important victory to keep building momentum from the 20-7 victory at Illinois on Oct. 6. Three of NU’s final five games are at home – Purdue, Maryland and Iowa – with Michigan State and Wisconsin the two road games.

Nebraska’s defense carried most of the load with the offense still scuffling, scoring just 54 points in its first four conference games. The Wildcats outgained the Huskers 257-248, but Nebraska ground out 163 yards rushing while surviving two early interceptions and three fumbles, all of which they recovered. 

Freshman I-back Emmett Johnson led all rushers with 73 yards on 12 carries, followed by quarterback Heinrich Haarberg with 72 yards on 16 carries. Except for a couple of exceptional throws, Haarberg struggled in the passing games, completing just 8 of 17 passes for 85 yards. 

Just over half of those yards – 44 – came on the biggest play of the game. After the Blackshirts stopped another Northwestern drive, Haarberg completed a 44-yard pass to freshman Malachi Coleman in the end zone that, with Tristan Alvano’s extra point, gave the Huskers a 17-6 lead. 

The running game didn’t go as well for the Wildcats, who netted just 81 yards and averaged 2.1 yards per rushing play. The first quarter was anything but scintillating. In 14 snaps, the Wildcats netted zero yards. 

Northwestern’s 10 rushing plays went for minus-3 yards. The one pass Brendan Sullivan completed went for three yards: thus, the zero. Nebraska wasn’t much better with two interceptions and a fumble and totaled just 48 total yards. 

But the Wildcats were able to score three points on a 45-yard field goal by Jack Olsen with 7:18 remaining in the quarter. Those points were made possible because of Haarberg’s second interception of the quarter. His first one came on the first play of the game.

The first pick came from a pass that was high and went off the fingers of the intended receiver. The second was a poor throw that went directly into the waiting arms of Rod Heard II. 

Nebraska’s defense bowed up to keep the total damage to just those three points. The Huskers forced Sullivan to fumble on Northwestern’s first snap, but the Wildcats recovered. 

An incompletion and a 5-yard sack of Sullivan credited to Nash Hutmacher and Princewill Umanmielen turned forced a three-and-out. 

Haarberg’s second pick put the Blackshirts in an even more precarious spot but, they responded with another big stop. With a first-and-10 at Nebraska’s 13, the Wildcats were called for holding on a 2-yard gain, followed by run for no gain and a 9-yard sack of Sullivan by Hutmacher before a 3-yard run by Cam Porter got the ball back to NU’s 27 for Olsen’s field goal. 

The Huskers then put together their first drive that didn’t end in a turnover or a three-and-out. A 15-yard pass from Haarberg to Alex Bullock, and a 10-yard run by Johnson were the big plays in the nine-play, 35-yard drive that ended with a 47-yard field goal by Omaha Westside graduate Alvano to tie the game 3-3. 

That kick, into a strong north wind, was the longest of Alvano’s young career. 

Northwestern regained the lead midway through the second quarter at 6-3 with another field goal by Olsen before the Huskers took their first lead of the game.

Haarberg went to his left and squeezed into the end zone as he was tripped up to cap a 10-play, 77-yard march with just 23 seconds remaining before halftime. 

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but Olsen missed his first kick this season when his 54-yard attempt with the north wind at his back fell short of the crossbar. 

Northwestern’s rushing numbers in the final 15 minutes doomed any chance they had of making a comeback. The Wildcats had nine yards for minus-26 yards, an average of minus-2.9 yards per carry. 

Next up for the Huskers is a 2:30 p.m. game on FS1 Oct. 28 against visiting Purdue, which had its bye week this week.