TAMPA, Fla. - The No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team advanced to the program's 11th NCAA Final with an impressive sweep of fellow No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in an NCAA Semifinal match Thursday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa. The match was played in front of a crowd of 19,598, the largest crowd to ever attend an indoor NCAA Volleyball match.
The Huskers trailed for only four rallies in the entire match. Nebraska lost four of the first seven rallies then won three straight points and never trailed again in a 25-20 win in the opening set. The Huskers did not trail in either set two or three, leading by as many as six in a 25-23 set two victory and by as many as 10 in a 25-17 win in set three to close out the match.
With the win, Nebraska (33-1) advanced to Sunday's NCAA Final where the Huskers will take on either Wisconsin or Texas in the 11th NCAA Final in program history. First serve is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, and the match will be televised on ABC.
Nebraska hit .245 against Pitt on Thursday, which entered the match with the second-best opponent hitting percentage in the country behind NU. The Huskers limited the Panthers to a .137 attack percentage, which marked Pitt's second-lowest mark of the season and lowest since its season opener against BYU.
The Husker block was dominant, recording 15 stuffs. Bekka Allick had 10 blocks, her second straight match with double-digit blocks. Merritt Beason added five stuffs while Ally Batenhorst and Andi Jackson each had a hand in four blocks. Lexi Rodriguez led the floor defense with a match-high 10 digs.
Harper Murray shined in her NCAA Semifinal debut as the freshman had a match-high 13 kills on 33 swings. She hit .273 and had five digs and two blocks. Allick and Jackson combined for nine kills on 16 error-free swings out of the middle, while Beason and Batenhorst had eight kills apiece.
National Freshman of the Year Oliva Babcock led Pitt (29-5) with 12 kills and eight blocks while fellow freshman Torrey Stafford had 10 kills.
Set 1: Murray had two early kills as the Huskers claimed an 11-9 lead with suffocating defense, holding Pitt to -.056 at that point. Beason had a kill and a block with Allick to make the lead three, 13-10. After Pitt got within one, Beason tipped a kill and Batenhorst and Jackson posted NU's fifth block of the set for a 15-12 lead at the media timeout. The Panthers scored the next two points to cut it to one again, but a service error followed by a Batenhorst/Jackson block put the lead back at three, 17-14. A kill by Batenhorst and a Pittsburgh hitting error made it 19-15 Huskers. Murray tallied her fourth kill, and Allick sent a Pitt attack back to the floor for a 22-17 Husker advantage. Beason terminated for a fourth time, and Pitt hit wide for set point, 24-18. Pitt fought off two set points before the Huskers' eighth block ended the set, 25-20. Nebraska held Pitt to .000 hitting in the first set.
Set 2: Allick started the set for the Big Red with a kill and a block, and Batenhorst added a kill before another block by Beason and Allick made it 4-1. Pitt answered with a 3-0 run, but Beason and Batenhorst produced back-to-back kills for a 6-4 advantage. An ace by Beason and two kills by Jackson extended the lead to 11-6, and Allick's seventh block made it 13-7. NU remained up by six, 15-9, after a Murray kill, but Pitt scored the next three to get within 15-12. Murray, Batenhorst and Reilly put down kills to keep the Huskers in front, 20-15. Batenhorst fired her sixth kill to make it 21-16, but the Panthers got two kills and a Husker hitting error to cut it to 21-19. Murray then put the Huskers on her back with three kills to take NU to set point, 24-20. The Panthers answered with two kills and a block to cut it to 24-23, but a service error ended the set in NU's favor, 25-23.
Set 3: Allick was involved in two more blocks and had a kill as well as the Huskers went up 8-6. Back-to-back kills by Batenhorst started a 5-0 Husker run that made it 15-9. Batenhorst and Jackson also had a block in that stretch, and Beason tallied a kill that forced a Pittsburgh timeout. The timeout didn't slow the Huskers, as Rodriguez came out of it with an ace. After Pittsburgh sided out, Jackson came right back with a kill and Pittsburgh was out of rotation to give the Huskers a 17-10 advantage. Pittsburgh used its final timeout, but Beason served back-to-back aces to make it 19-10 Huskers. Kills by Jackson and Murray and a block by Murray and Allick before another kill by Murray had it at 23-13 Huskers. Murray's 13th kill earned match point, and after Pitt fended off three match points, the Big Red clinched the match when the Panthers were called for being int he net on the Huskers' fourth match point.
Nebraska Post-Match Notes
- With the win, Nebraska advanced to an NCAA Final for the 11th time in program history and for the fifth time in the past nine seasons. NU improved to 11-6 all-time in NCAA Semifinal matches, with the 11 trips to the NCAA Final ranking second in NCAA Division I history.
- The Huskers have won their last four NCAA Semifinal matchups and five of their last six.
- John Cook has led Nebraska to an NCAA Final for the eighth time in his 24 seasons. Cook is the third Division I coach to take one school to eight NCAA Finals, joining Russ Rose (10 at Penn State) and Don Shaw (8 at Stanford). Overall, Cook’s eight trips to the NCAA Final are tied with Shaw for third all-time among Division I coaches.
- With the win, Nebraska improved to 33-1 on the season. The 33 wins tie for the second-most victories for Nebraska during the NCAA era (1981-present), one shy of the 34 wins by the 2000 Huskers.
- Nebraska improved to 130-36 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers joined Stanford (138 wins) as the only two Division I programs with 130 NCAA Tournament wins.
- NU improved to 14-0 all-time against Pittsburgh, including a 5-0 mark in the NCAA Tournament.
- The Huskers moved to 11-0 all-time against ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament.
- John Cook improved to 89-19 in the NCAA Tournament as Nebraska’s head coach. He moved to 97-24 in his NCAA Tournament career. Cook ranks second all-time in career NCAA Tournament victories and NCAA Tournament wins at one school.
- Tonight marked John Cook’s 850th career victory (including his seven seasons at Wisconsin). Cook is just the 14th coach in NCAA Division I history to win 850 matches. He joins Florida’s Mary Wise (1,045) and Florida State’s Chris Poole (918) as the only active Division I head coach with 850 career wins.
- The Huskers won the first two sets against Pittsburgh and improved to 101-1 in the NCAA Tournament when taking a 2-0 lead. Nebraska has won 100 consecutive postseason matches when winning the first two sets.
- Nebraska had eight blocks in set one. That was a higher total than the Huskers had in 11 matches this season.
- The Huskers recorded their 10th block on the 50th rally of the match. NU finished with 15 blocks, its fourth straight match with double-digit kills and 14th on the season.
- In addition to the 15 blocks against Pitt, Nebraska had 17 blocks in its last match against Arkansas. The Huskers have recorded 15 blocks in consecutive matches for the first time since back-to-back matches against Michigan (15) and Illinois (16) in November of 2014.
- Nebraska held Pittsburgh to a .137 attack percentage, which marked the Panthers' second-lowest percentage of the season and lowest since their season opener against BYU.
- Bekka Allick had 10 blocks in the match, which tied the Nebraska all-time record for blocks in a three-set NCAA Tournament match. Only three times prior to tonight had a Husker had 10 stuffs in a three-set NCAA Tournament match: Melissa Elmer twice during the 2005 NCAA Tournament (Duke and Florida) and Amber Rolfzen in a 2014 first-round match against Hofstra.
- Allick now has 22 blocks in her last two matches, averaging 3.1 blocks per set.
- Allick and fellow middle Andi Jackson combined to hit .563 in the match with nine kills on 16 error-free swings.
- Merritt Beason had four service aces in the match. The four aces were her most as a Husker and tied her career high.
- Lexi Rodriguez had 14 digs in the match to increase her career total to 1,418. Rodriguez passed Kenzie Maloney (1,406) and Jordan Larson (1,410) to move into fifth place on Nebraska’s all-time digs list.