There’s a new team at the top of the NCAA Women’s Volleyball rankings after the Nebraska Huskers defeated the Wisconsin Badgers. But while the Badgers have been at the top for so long, this result is by no means an upset.
The Huskers are the only team that can defeat the Badgers. Other teams have tried, while some have come close. But Nebraska is the only team that can match Wisconsin player by player. That clash was a toss-up, and it manifested as advertised.
It would have been an injustice if the game didn’t go to five sets. It’s like two prized fighters going at it until the final round. Therefore, everyone got their money’s worth when the showdown between the two NCAA titans went the distance.
The fifth set lived up to the billing, with no team giving an inch until Nebraska delivered the knockout blow. Going down two sets to one made the victory sweeter, especially when it looked like the Badgers had solved the Huskers' mystery after losing the opening frame.
Winning this game is as significant as packing a football stadium
The Huskers set the bar high for women’s sports after playing in front of 92,000 people. However, the focus is more on the attendance, not the game itself. They were expected to win because they were playing an inferior team.
While getting cheered by a packed crowd at The Sea of Red is an uplifting experience, the Huskers cherished their victory over the Badgers even more. It’s the one team the American Volleyball Coaches Association members thought was better than them, even if they had their dominating path.
The crowd may be smaller, but that game against Wisconsin meant bigger to John Cook’s crew. They did not fold against their most formidable opponent this season and possibly the only obstacle in their path to a national championship.
The Wisconsin Wall was in effect early in the game
The Badgers imposed their will against their fiercest rivals with 12 kill blocks in the second set. The Wisconsin net defense was impenetrable, whether it was Anna Smrek, Devyn Robinson, Sarah Franklin, or Caroline Crawford manning the front line.
Wisconsin’s dominance may have bothered Nebraska in Set 3 as they committed six attack errors. Combining those with some kill blocks had the Badgers moving one set away from victory. Kelly Sheffield’s crew also manifested their balanced attack, as seven players scored at least one attack point.
Nebraska responded out of desperation
Temi Thomas-Ailara’s kill gave Wisconsin match point, 24-23. But the Huskers won’t be denied in front of their home crowd as they forced a fifth set after consecutive kills by Harper Murray, Andi Jackson, and Bekka Allick.
While those three players kept Nebraska in the game, Merritt Beason and Ally Batenhorst deserve recognition.
The duo combined for eight points, keeping the Huskers toe-to-toe with their foes. Come set five, it was a Harper Murray show as she scored seven out of Nebraska’s 15 points. Four of her points turned a 12-10 deficit into a 15-13 win.
Nebraska and Wisconsin must be on opposite sides of the bracket
The two teams will have a rematch next month, which the Badgers will host. But even before that day comes, the selection committee must keep them far from each other when the main tournament comes. There’s no other matchup worthy of all the marbles.
That game pulled in 612,000 viewers on the Big Ten Network, the most in the network’s history. Imagine how bigger the audience will be if they are the last teams standing in the main dance.
It would be an injustice to see this potential showdown in an earlier round. Barring any upset, the Nebraska Huskers and the Wisconsin Badgers deserve to compete for the ultimate prize. Any other pairing won’t be a blockbuster showdown.