LINCOLN, Neb. – The No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team advanced to the NCAA Semifinals with a hard-fought 3-1 victory over third-seeded Arkansas Saturday evening in front of 8,713 fans at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Nebraska erased a late five-point deficit to rally and win set one, 26-24. The Huskers then cruised to a 25-14 victory in set two but Arkansas (28-6) battled over the next two sets. The Razorbacks won set three, 25-21, handing the Huskers their first set loss of the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas then led 19-17 in set four before NU rallied for a 25-23 victory.
Nebraska (32-1) will head to the NCAA Semifinals for the 17th time in program history and the sixth time in the last nine years. The Huskers will face No. 4 Pittsburgh on Thursday at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. A match time has not yet been announced.
The Huskers, who finished 21-0 at home this season, hit just .194 in the match, but Nebraska held Arkansas to a .100 attack percentage. The Huskers had the advantage in kills (57-47), blocks (17-9) and digs (78-62), but the Razorbacks served up eight aces while Nebraska’s lone ace came on the first point of the match.
Merritt Beason, the NCAA Lincoln Regional Most Outstanding Player, finished with a match-high 19 kills. She recorded a double-double by adding 11 digs and nearly posted a triple-double after finishing with eight blocks, tying her career high. Harper Murray had 15 kills and 12 digs for the Big Red. Bergen Reilly also had a double-double with 40 assists and 16 digs.
Defensively, Bekka Allick had a career-high 12 blocks. Her 12 stuffs were the most ever by a Husker in an NCAA Tournament match during the rally-scoring era and were just one shy of the program record for any postseason match. Lexi Rodriguez had a match-high 20 digs to lead the Nebraska floor defense, as five Huskers finished with double-digit digs.
Reilly and Rodriguez joined Beason on the Lincoln Regional All-Tournament team.
Three Razorbacks finished with double-digit kills, led by 14 from Jillian Gillen.
Set 1: Arkansas went up 6-3 after three straight kills. The Razorbacks led 12-6 after a kill and ace by Gillen on back-to-back rallies. Murray and Beason posted back-to-back kills, and Beason and Allick combined for a block as the Huskers pulled within 12-10 after a 4-0 run. Arkansas answered with three points in a row and held a 16-11 lead before a kill by Batenhorst and Arkansas hitting error made it 16-13. However, the Razorbacks restored their five-point lead at 18-13. Back-to-back kills by Jackson brought NU back within three, 19-16, but once again Arkansas had an answer with a kill and block by Gillen to go up 21-16. Murray posted a sideout kill, which brought Kennedi Orr in to serve. From there, Murray terminated again and then added a block with Allick. A hitting error by Arkansas cut its lead to one, 21-20, after the Huskers’ 4-0 run. The Razorbacks led 23-21 when a service error and block by Allick and Beason tied the score at 23-23. Beason terminated a kill for the Huskers’ first lead since 2-1 and set point, 24-23. An Arkansas kill tied it 24-24, but Beason once again put down a kill to earn a second chance at set point. This time, a block by Beason and Jackson won the set, 26-24.
Set 2: Allick had a block and kill, and Beason, Batenhorst and Jackson combined for six kills as the Huskers went ahead 9-2. Back-to-back kills by Jackson and Reilly kept the lead at seven, 11-4. Arkansas cut it to 15-10, but a kill by Beason and block by Beason and Jackson made it 17-10 Huskers. Arkansas got within five again, 17-12, but Beason recorded a kill and Jackson terminated on the slide to make it 19-12 Huskers. Jackson and Murray had kills for a 23-13 lead, and a kill by Beason and block by Allick and Reilly closed the set out, 25-14.
Set 3: Arkansas held an 8-7 lead when kills by Allick and Beason put the Huskers on top, 10-8. Back-to-back aces by Gillen put Arkansas back in front, 13-12, but Batenhorst and Murray terminated two straight kills for a 15-14 NU lead at the media timeout. But the Razorbacks responded with a 4-0 run out of the break to claim an 18-15 advantage, and the Huskers used a timeout. A solo block by Murray ended the run, and a kill by Murray and block by Beason and Allick cut it to 19-18. But after a timeout, the Razorbacks got a kill and a block to go up 21-18, and the Huskers called timeout. Beason then tallied her 14th kill, and a back-row kill by Murray got NU within 21-20. The Razorbacks answered with a 4-1 run to win the set, 25-21.
Set 4: Nebraska led 9-8 when a kill by Murray brought Orr in to serve again, and she delivered a 4-0 Husker run that put the Big Red up 13-8. Reilly and Allick had a block in that run, and Reilly dumped a kill. A kill by Murray put the Huskers ahead 14-10, but two straight hitting errors and a net violation allowed the Razorbacks within 14-13. Arkansas tied the score at 16-16, but Beason hit off the block and out to put NU back on top. But a service error and hitting error put Arkansas in front, 18-17, and an ace made it 19-17 Arkansas. Batenhorst terminated after a timeout, and a kill by Beason tied the score at 19-19. Arkansas regained a 20-19 lead but the committed a service error and attacking error to give the Huskers a 21-20 lead. Gillen answered with a kill, but the Huskers won the next three points on a pair of blocks and a third Arkansas attack error. The Razorbacks then fought off two match points before a service error sent Nebraska into the NCAA Semifinals.