Nebraska volleyball beats top-ranked Wisconsin in five-set thriller

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LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska won the battle of unbeatens Saturday night in women’s volleyball, defeating Wisconsin in five sets at the Devaney Center in the first matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in the sport since 2019.

The No. 2-ranked Huskers took control with a 4-0 run late in the decisive fifth set and won the match 25-22, 17-25, 20-25, 26-24, 15-13 on a successful challenge by coach John Cook that top-ranked Wisconsin committed a net violation on the final point.

“It was a match for the ages tonight — two great teams battling every point,” Cook said. “We just found a way to be two points better.”

The win for Nebraska (19-0, 10-0 Big Ten) snapped a 10-match losing streak against Wisconsin that dated to 2017. The Badgers, after a lackluster performance in the opening set before a Devaney Center-record crowd of 9,198, asserted control at the net with their physical play.

But Nebraska fought back and denied Wisconsin (18-1, 9-1) on one match-point in the fourth set.

The match was contested in front of the 314th consecutive sellout in Lincoln after tickets on the secondary market sold for hundreds of dollars.

did ya expect anything other than five?

THE BOB IS OUT OF CONTROL pic.twitter.com/8hckqQ89zp

— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) October 22, 2023

Here’s what you need to know:

• With the score tied at 12 in the fifth set, Nebraska freshman Harper Murray blasted a kill off the Wisconsin block. The Huskers earned a match point after a Wisconsin net violation. A kill by Anna Smrek kept the Badgers alive. Murray hit wide on the final point, which was awarded to Wisconsin — until Cook used a green card to challenge the call.

• Nebraska is the only major-conference team to remain undefeated after Saturday. It snapped the Badgers’ streak of 30 consecutive sets won, dating to a Sept. 17 five-set win at Florida, to open the match.

• The Huskers struggled to match Wisconsin’s physicality for much of the night. The Badgers out-blocked Nebraska 12-2 in the tide-turning second set as the 6-foot-9 Smrek and the 6-foot-7 Carter Booth took control. In the back-and-forth fourth set, the score was tied at 18, 21, 23 and 24. Nebraska scored three of the final four points, forcing the fifth set on a service ace by Murray.

• Saturday marked the 33rd regular-season matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 in women’s volleyball. The last time before this Nebraska victory, No. 2 Stanford beat the No. 1-ranked Huskers in four sets on Sept. 18, 2019.

A couple thoughts from last night before I turn back to football:

— Matt Rhule has said he wants his players to spend time around excellence.

Last night at Devaney, top football commits Daniel Kaelin and Carter Nelson held up signs in the stands.

(continued) ⬇️

— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) October 22, 2023

What does this mean moving forward?

Saturday night was billed as a massive event for volleyball in the wake of the Aug. 30 Volleyball Day in Nebraska, at which the Huskers drew a crowd of 92,003 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for a match against Omaha that shattered the global attendance record for a women’s sporting event.

Momentum carried into Saturday as multiple programs set attendance marks in September.

It lived up to the hype, especially in the final two sets. The atmosphere turned electric in the fourth set and remained intense through the fifth, during which neither team led by more than two points.

No doubt, Saturday marked an important night for volleyball. And these teams will likely stay front and center. They’re set to battle again next month on the Badgers’ home court, with the Big Ten title perhaps in the balance, and they could meet in the NCAA tournament in December.

Nebraska has won five national championships. Wisconsin won its first in 2021, defeating the Huskers in five sets in the final match.

The NCAA semifinals and championship match are set for Tampa on Dec. 14 and 17.

Required reading

  • Nebraska volleyball’s ‘rock star-like’ season continues with No. 1 vs. No. 2 match
  • ‘Volleyball doesn’t know your age’: Nebraska freshmen ignite bid to retake Big Ten dominance
  • Nebraska volleyball eyes attendance world record: ‘No other school could do this’

(Photo: Dylan Widger / USA Today)

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