By Lincoln Arneal
Harper Murray had nearly a perfect day on Saturday when returning to her hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The freshman outside hitter helped No. 2 Nebraska sweep Michigan 29-27, 25-17, 25-14 Saturday evening at Crisler Center as she recorded 13 kills with a .423 hitting percentage to go with 11 digs, two aces and three blocks, the latter two of which tied for the team lead.
Murray even got a little time with the dogs belonging to her older sister, Kendall, as the Michigan senior outside hitter stopped by the team hotel earlier Saturday.
“Think of the pressure of her coming back here,” NU coach John Cook said in a postgame radio interview. “She started off a little shaky, but she got it going.”
After the match, dozens of fans surrounded Harper and Kendall, many of whom wore white to not show favor between the sisters.
Freshman setter Bergen Reilly said Harper handled all types of sets and made the most out of chances even when things weren’t going NU’s way.
“Tonight was really going to be hard for her just being in her hometown with all the emotions surrounding this game, but she really pulled through it,” Reilly said on BTN.
Kendall finished with five kills and two blocks for Michigan and recorded an ace off her little sister.
As sweet as the ending was for the Huskers, who improved to 15-0 and 6-0 in the Big Ten, the first set was another tense battle.
A night after needing a late 7-1 rally to stave off Michigan State in the opening frame, NU never led in the first set against Michigan until it scored the final point to win it.
The Wolverines (3-12, 1-5) led 9-4 and 20-16 in the first set before the Huskers rallied. The Wolverines failed to convert five set points starting at 24-22. The set ended after kills from Murray, Merritt Beason and Bekka Allick.
“We just had to play ugly and win ugly. We always say gritty over pretty,” Reilly said. “We really embodied that in the first set, and we just made some great plays at the end there.”
Cook said he felt good about the Huskers’ chances once they got within two and began serving tough. Murray and Beason each recorded aces late.
“I told him afterward, I said, ‘You guys, if we … played with that sense of urgency the whole match, it would be so much more fun. But we just turned it on when we needed to turn it on. And that was a heck of a comeback.”
While Murray delivered in a challenging situation, Lindsay Krause provided most of the firepower early. The junior outside hitter recorded seven kills in the first set and finished with 15 on a .519 clip. Krause returned to the service line instead of Laney Choboy and added two aces.
After trading playing time with Ally Batenhorst at outside hitter, Krause finished with her fourth straight match of at least eight kills and hitting above .380.
“She’s got into a great rhythm and she took some big swings tonight,” Cook said. “I like her serve and we ran a lot of points with her serving.”
NU settled down after the opening stanza and jumped out to leads of 8-2 and 9-5 in the subsequent sets. The Huskers were their best in the third set hitting .565 with just one error.
Reilly finished with 40 assists as NU hit .343 for the match. Beason added 10 kills. The middles struggled as Allick and Andi Jackson combined for nine kills and four errors on 22 swings.
Michigan hit .286 in the first set but couldn’t sustain that success and finished with a .173 hitting percentage. Valentina Vaulet paced U-M with eight kills at a .444 clip.
The Huskers continued to struggle from the service line. While they recorded six aces, they also missed 12 serves, the fourth-straight match with double-digit service errors. Reilly was the biggest culprit, as she missed five on the night.
Cook said the lack of familiarity with the arena, which was filled with 7,831 fans, and using a different brand of volleyball impacted NU’s serving.
Nebraska has another week to figure out its serving woes before returning home next weekend for matches against Michigan State and No. 14 Penn State.