By Lincoln Arneal
“The Rally” lasted 72 seconds.
It featured 19 attacks, including six from Nebraska outside hitter Harper Murray and seven from Kentucky’s Brooklyn DeLeye.
The Huskers stuffed five UK attacks. Maisie Boesiger dove to save two balls while Lexi Rodriguez made shoestring digs and sent another pass while facing the endline over her head.
Nearing exhaustion, Murray tooled the attack off the Kentucky block and collapsed, trying to catch her breath from the marathon play.
In the end, the point only cut Nebraska’s deficit to 12-10 in the fourth set, but it was emblematic of the fight from both teams and the scrappy play that helped lift the fourth-ranked Huskers to a 25-14, 25-22, 23-25, 25-21 victory Sunday night in front of 8,531 fans at the Devaney Center.
“Both teams were fighting super hard on that point,” NU coach John Cook said. “They have several chances to win it. We had several chances to win it, and people were just making freak plays. It’s just trying to impose your will and it also got our crowd fired up. Our crowd was great for Sunday night.”
Murray said she had never been part of a rally that long, and the key to winning it was to stay disciplined and push through the exhaustion. She finished the match with 17 kills and a .308 hitting percentage.
“We were dead. We were out of breath,” the 6-foot-2 freshman said. “When I went up for that last one, I was just telling myself to use my legs and give it my all.”
After the play was over, Kentucky coach Craig Skinner challenged the play, claiming the ball touched the floor on one of Rodriguez’s pancake digs. The call stood, and the Huskers (9-0) were thankful for a break to catch their breath.
The play also helped spark NU to complete the comeback and end the match in four sets. Ally Batenhorst was on the bench during the action but was impressed with the level of fight she saw. The junior outside hitter said NU works on that hustle daily during practice.
“I think that was probably the best rally I’ve ever seen in my career,” she said.
Batenhorst got the start after Lindsay Krause was ruled out following a car crash on Wednesday when she was rear-ended while driving on O Street. Cook said she tried to practice earlier on Sunday but only lasted 10 minutes. She is considered day-to-day.
The Huskers were also without defensive specialist Laney Choboy. Cook said she was hurting after an on-court collision during the Stanford match last Tuesday.
In their place, Batenhorst earned her second start of the year and finished with 12 kills. She was also perfect in her 14 serve receptions. Boesiger served for Batenhorst and recorded an ace and six digs.
“Coming off the bench, we talk a lot about game changers and ripping off the hinges,” Batenhorst said. “That’s something that I’ve really taken to heart and whenever it’s my turn, I’m gonna go out there and give it all I have for the team.”
The Huskers dominated the first two sets as they hit .397. Freshman setter Bergen Reilly, who finished with 46 assists and 12 digs, created good matchups for her attackers.
Even when Reilly wasn’t handling the second touches, NU was effective on offense with several impressive out-of-system kills. Junior opposite Merritt Beason totaled 17 kills and a .438 hitting percentage. Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson added 10 kills on 16 swings.
Junior Libero Lexi Rodriguez anchored the defense with 18 digs and made several jaw-dropping plays. Even though Batenhorst sees Rodriguez play in the gym nearly every day, she’s continually impressed by her.
“That girl gets crazy ups that I do not expect at all,” Batenhorst said. “There were a few balls today that I was like, ‘Ope, that’s up like I have to keep going.’ She’s just amazing and she’s very consistent and a stable teammate. It’s really good that we have her to rely on all the time.”
After the slow start, Kentucky (2-6) rallied and its defense stepped up, translating to a more efficient offense. The Wildcats hit .432 in the third set and Reagan Rutherford recorded six of her match-high 19 kills. Elise Goetzinger added 14 kills for UK.
Kentucky was hurt by 14 service errors but kept pressure on the Huskers with its defense.
“They played really hard tonight and they played really, really well,” Cook said. “(Skinner) has got a great team. I know that record isn’t great, but look out. Those guys are going to be competing for the SEC championship.”