By Lincoln Arneal
Bekka Allick was ready to end the match.
She had enough of a pesky Northwestern team hanging around and taking advantage of Nebraska’s loose play and porous defense.
With NU leading 22-16 in the fourth set, the Wildcats dug a slide attack by the NU sophomore middle blocker and scrambled to send over a free ball. Before Maisie Boesiger could even pass the ball, Allick clapped her hands, calling for setter Bergen Reilly to give her another slide attack that she drove into the court for a kill.
Much like the rest of the match, the work wasn’t over for the Huskers. After three straight Northwestern points, Allick sent the crowd of 8,637 home as she slammed home an overpass to cap off a 28-26, 24-26, 25-11, 25-20 victory over Northwestern Wednesday night at the Devaney Center.
Allick, who finished with 11 kills and seven blocks, said she’s struggled with the slide attack during her Husker career, so when she gets the opportunity to run it, she wants to show Reilly and others that she can terminate it.
“I knew I had something to prove,” Allick said. “When they dug me, I’m like, ‘All right, let’s go again,’ I’m getting this.”
With the win, the top-ranked Huskers improved to 24-0 (and 15-0 in the Big Ten) for its best start since 2006.
The focus and determination Allick showed on her final two kills weren’t present for top-ranked Nebraska for all of the match. The Huskers gave up big runs to allow Northwestern to stay in the contest and it cost them the second set.
Northwestern (11-14, 5-10) led 22-19 in the first set before the Huskers ran off five straight points. However, they couldn’t close it out immediately as their first two set points failed and they had to fend off a Wildcat set point before scoring the final three points.
NU looked poised to run away with the second set. It scored the first four points of the frame and led 13-7. Northwestern responded with a 12-3 run and led 19-16. The Huskers responded again, going up 23-21, but the Wildcats pulled out the set by winning six of the final seven rallies.
Cook said the problem plaguing the Huskers was a lack of focus. They let too many balls drop on defense, their block was undisciplined and the connection on offense wasn’t sharp.
“If you’re not ready, the ball finds you,” Cook said. “It happens so much. I’m going to show them video tomorrow. They will see they’re not ready for it, and then here comes the ball. I think more balls dropped tonight than maybe the entire year so far.”
The Wildcats hit .306 in the first set. That dropped in the second set, but they still put up 15 kills and limited NU to hitting .135. The Huskers were outblocked 7-4 in the first two sets.
“Urgency is the name of the game,” Allick said. “It’s a game of errors, and whoever wants it more is who’s going to win the game at the end of the day. So urgency was huge, and when we let up, we paid the price.”
Julia Sangiacomo and Averie Hernandez each put up 10 kills during the first two sets but couldn’t match the success in the second half as they finished with 16 and 13 kills, respectively.
During intermission, Nebraska adjusted its defense to take away line shots and not allow the Northwestern hitters to tool off their block so easily. NU also improved its serving with all four of its aces coming after the break.
The Huskers faced a similar situation in the third set, leading 12-8, but this time, they put their foot down and went on an 11-2 run. Freshman Andi Jackson said the difference was their block was getting hands on more attacks, which made the defense more effective.
Despite the mindset shift, Northwestern started the fourth quickly, taking an 8-3 lead, but with Laney Choboy serving, NU climbed back into the set with six straight points that were part of an 8-1 run.
Jackson and Reilly shone during the streak with three straight blocks against Hernandez. Jackson said she’s never gone on a 3-0 run just on blocks, but that helped energize the Huskers.
“It doesn’t only bring momentum to our side but it shuts the other team down,” Jackson said. “I know when our team gets blocked three times in a row, it’s defeating. As a hitter, it is hard to come back from that and so it makes it super mental.”
Jackson, who finished with six blocks and seven kills, said they were moving too much at the net and almost trying too hard. The adjustments resulted in NU winning the blocking battle 13-10.
The Huskers finished hitting .278, led by 13 kills from Merritt Beason and Harper Murray. Ally Batenhorst finished with 10 kills, but the trio of pin hitters were streaky and combined for 16 hitting errors.
Reilly finished with a double-double of 45 assists and 12 digs. Lexi Rodriguez added 11 digs.
Cook said he’s not overly worried that the Huskers are still fighting to learn lessons about focus as they enter the final part of the regular season.
“The game has no memory, and every day is a new day. They’ve got to learn what it takes,” he said. “Each match teaches us something different.”