Big matchups don’t always live up to the hype, but Saturday night, the stars shown in the volleyball world
In a match both fan bases won’t forget for a long time — not necessarily for the same reasons — the No. 1 Wisconsin Badgers (9-1 Big Ten, 18-1 overall) had their chances to stun a home crowd, but were eventually punished by the No. 2 Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-0, 19-0) in a five-set thriller (22-25, 25-17, 25-,20, 24-26, 13-15).
The loss by Wisconsin breaks a 10-match win streak over the Huskers that included two NCAA Tournament wins, including the 2021 National Championship Game, and stretched since 2017, with the joy and relief seemingly felt by the Husker faithful that felt palpable through the TV Screen.
Merritt Beason, who played a part last year in Florida’s win over the Badgers in the Kohl Center, was the star for the Huskers with 21 kills to lead all players, but UW will be kicking themselves for not pouncing on some missed chances to win the game.
The Badgers had set point in the fourth set after cruising in the second and third to take a 2-1 advantage. While ahead 24-23, Wisconsin let the Huskers go on a 3-0 run thanks to a couple of crucial errors that led to the fifth set.
In the tiebreaker, the Badgers held a 12-10 lead before Nebraska freshman Harper Murray tied the set 12-all and a 4-0 run gave the Huskers multiple match point opportunities. Although UW fought back with a kill from Sarah Franklin to make it 14-13, a potential set-tying point was reviewed and called in the net by the officials, giving Nebraska the much desired 15-13 set and match win.
Although Wisconsin held the Huskers to just .137 hitting — in part because of a second set bounce-back that featured 12 UW blocks over the Huskers — the Badgers could not take advantage of that dominance. Instead, some real momentum killing service errors became the story.
Despite back-to-back great serving performances, the Badgers had 12 service errors and no aces, with not a ton of difficult serving periods. Although the Huskers had 11 service errors — including three crucial ones in the fifth set that helped Wisconsin hold a cushion early on — they also were able to put down three aces.
Both teams proved they were among the best in the country on the night. Every point was high-energy, high-level volleyball with extended rallies, key hustle plays and a lot for a neutral to love. UW’s two main back row players Julia Orzoł and Gülce Güçtekin finished with double digit kills — 18 and 12, respectively. Nebraska’s All-American libero Lexi Rodriguez posted 17 for Nebraska’s typically stout backline.
While lots of talk in Madison will be about a missed call after a Badger challenge in the first set — video review seemed to confirm there was a touch on a Nebraska player that would give UW the point, but the call was not overturned — Wisconsin had clear chances to close out the match and did not. Instead, a young Nebraska team found a way past UW despite hitting .130 overall in the match. They came up when it mattered most though, hitting for .545 in the fifth set and coming out with a win that will shape the volleyball season to come.
As for Wisconsin, the Badgers will be salivating for a Black Friday matchup against the Huskers that will likely have Big Ten championship and post-season seeding implications. Until then, UW fans will be left thinking about what might have been, while Nebraska fans will just be celebrating Saturday night.
Next up for Wisconsin is a Friday matchup against the Michigan State Spartans (5-4, 13-7) on the road in East Lansing.