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.”