By Lincoln Arneal
Finally, let the celebration commence.
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.”