Nebraska team in a uddle

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Dec. 14, 2023) – The Nebraska Cornhuskers are returning to the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship match after sweeping Pitt 3-0 (25-20, 25-23, 25-17) Thursday night in front of a record-breaking crowd at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. The Huskers were last in the final in 2021, losing to Wisconsin in five sets.

Nebraska (33-1) will face the winner of Thursday’s second semifinal match between Texas and Wisconsin. Pitt finished its season 29-4. The official attendance of 19,598 marked the most fans for an NCAA women’s indoor volleyball match in history.

The Huskers used a devastating defense that included 15 total team blocks to shut down the Pitt offense. The team had a school-record 17 total team blocks against Arkansas on Dec. 9.

“I thought it was a great effort on our part,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “Pittsburgh is a very good team. Just watching video on them; they had our respect. I thought this would be a really, really tough match, and I knew we’d have to play a great match to win. I thought our team…we talked about winning some close points. There [was] some ugly volleyball. We found a couple ways to win a couple points out of that. I just thought our serving and blocking and defense really put some pressure on Pittsburgh.”

Freshman outside hitter Harper Murray (Ann Arbor, Mich.) had 13 kills (.273 hitting percentage) and added five digs and two block assists. Murray played on the 2022-23 U.S. Girls U19 National Team that won gold at the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup. She was named Best Spiker in that tournament.

Leading the Husker block party was sophomore middle blocker Bekka Allick (Lincoln, Neb.). She collected three solo blocks and seven block assists to go along with four kills. Allick played on the 2022-23 U.S. Women’s U21 National Team, winning gold at the 2022 U21 Pan American Cup.

“I think just kind of what we always talk about is just using the scouting report,” Allick said about the strong blocking night. “Coaches work really hard on that. So just the biggest thing as a blocker is trusting what they’ve taught us and taking away their tendencies. When the opponent gets stressed, they’re going to try and hit their comfortable shot as hard as they can and usually that works out. So being able to take that away early on is something that pays off in the long run.”

Junior Merritt Beason (Gardendale, Ala.) and junior Ally Batenhorst (Houston, Texas) both had eight kills. Beason, who was teammates with Allick on the Women’s U21 National Team last year, added a match-high four aces, four digs and five block assists. Batenhorst, who was on the 2018 U.S. Girls Youth National Team and 2021 U.S. Women’s Junior National Team, had one solo block, three block assists and two digs.

Freshman setter Bergen Reilly (Sioux Falls, S.D.) led the Husker offense with 31 assists. She added a kill and three digs. Reilly was named MVP and Best Setter at the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup with the U.S. Girls U19 Team, and also played with the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2022 NORCECA Final Six, winning silver.

Freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson (Brighton, Colo.), a member of the U.S. Girls U19 National Team that won gold at the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup, had five kills, one solo block, three block assists and one dig.

Defensively, junior libero Lexi Rodriguez (Sterling, Ill.) had a match-high 14 digs. Rodriguez was part of the 2019 U.S. Girls Youth National Team that won gold at the U19 World Championships. Freshman libero/defensive specialist Laney Choboy (Raleigh, N.C.) added eight digs. Choboy was named best receiver at the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup with the U.S. Girls U19 Team. Junior setter Kennedi Orr (Eagan, Minn.), another member of the 2019 Girls Youth world championship team, had two digs.

Cook spoke about the the contributions of his freshmen during the season.

“You know I think they’re all super competitors,” he said. “That’s their superpower. They’re competitors. The bigger the stage, the bigger the match, the harder they compete.”

It was the second straight final four appearance for Pitt, which was led on offense by freshman outside hitter Olivia Babcock (Los Angeles, Calif.) with 12 kills, one ace and four digs. She added eight block assists. Babcock won gold at the 2023 U19 Pan American Cup with the U.S. Girls U19 National Team.

“I can definitely no longer say I’m a newcomer to this high level of competition,” Babcock said. “And something this important, yeah, it’s unfortunate that we didn’t make it to the next round, but I think just being here overall was a good experience, and I know that next year, because I really do believe we’re going to come back, I think next year we’re going to be able to handle it better emotionally.”

Freshman outside hitter Torrey Stafford (Torrance, Calif.) had 10 kills, one assist and six digs. Stafford played on the U.S. Girls U19 National Team that won gold at the 2022 U19 Pan American Cup.

Senior Valeria Vazquez Gomez (Puerto Rico) notched seven kills and eight digs. Middle blocker Emma Monks, a graduate student from Louisville, had three kills, seven block assists and one dig. Another graduate student, middle blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo (Columbus, Ohio), had three kills and one block assist.

Junior setter Rachel Fairbanks (Tustin, Calif.) had one kills, 29 assists and nine digs. As part of the Women’s U21 National Team, she was named Best Setter this year at the 2023 Pan American Cup. Junior libero Emmy Klika (Novelty, Ohio) had two assists and two digs.

“We have so many great memories on and off the court,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said about the season. “I think internally they’ll take away a ton. I think in terms of a program, it’s really hard to keep getting better every year, especially when you’ve already been to two Final Fours, but I think we have. I think we’re as good as we’ve ever been. I think we have the best fan support we’ve ever had. I think it was another step forward as a program.”