TAMPA–(NU Athletics Dec. 14)–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 Huskers trailed for only four rallies in the entire match. Nebraska lost four of the first six 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 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.