Mizzou Volleyball survived and advanced, at least for another day. They now face the number one overall seed in the country, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. To learn a little more about Big Red before the matchup tonight at the Devaney Center, I talked to Beth Merrigan (aka BVBmerry) of fellow SB Nation site Corn Nation.
What have been the keys to Nebraska’s considerable success this year?
Nebraska plays with full confidence in themselves. They play this way no matter the score which allows them to stay loose when they are down or up. As a body, this group of players is very competitive. They talk about their competitive practice atmosphere and we see it in the way they play in matches. They seem to thrive when the lights are on.
Nebraska is 12th in the country in assists per set, 15th in hitting percentage, and 11th in kills per set. What makes the team’s offense so effective?
Nebraska moves the ball around to all five of their hitters. Every one of them is an offensive threat so blockers must respect each one. When everyone is a threat the block’s job is harder and it is spread out. This gives an opportunity for hitters to attack spaces in the block which ultimately leads to more kills and better hitting percentage.
Who is the most dangerous member of the Nebraska attack?
Merritt Beason is a 6’4’’ right side hitter from Alabama. She is a junior and transferred to Nebraska from Florida this year. Her leadership ability was evident from the start and the team voted her a co-captain. Her playing ability has proven to be consistent and productive through the season. She hits from everywhere and has a variety of shots.
Nebraska also has one of the better defenses in the country. How much of this has to do with Lexi Rodriguez?
#8 Lexi Rodriguez is a large part of the great Husker defense. She both covers a lot of the court but also leads by example. She is the 2023 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, 2022 Second Team All-American and 2021 First Team All-American. Defense is a team element, however, so Rodriguez’s play is the result of a well-formed block in front of her. Those two elements are highly linked and she is able to play consistent defense because her teammates are disciplined blockers.
I love watching Lexi Rodriguez. She is always balanced and in a ready position. She is technically excellent in her passing and defensive positions. Young players should absolutely watch her to learn.
Who is your favorite player to watch on this team, and why?
#2 Bergen Reilly is a freshman setter for Nebraska. She has a calm demeanor on the court and sets a balanced offense. She is a very skilled setter and leaves blockers waiting until the last moment to know who she will set.
Who is the most underrated player on the team?
Laney Choboy is a freshman defensive specialist. You won’t notice her on the stat sheet, although she earns a good number of digs and aces. The first time you notice her might be when she is running into the stands to save a ball. Choboy has no quit in her. We wrote an article about her and what she means to this team after she was the #1 highlight on ESPNs Sportscenter (https://www.cornnation.com/2023/11/13/23958900/nebraska-volleyball-is-1-in-more-than-the-national-rankings).
Laney Choboy would be the starting libero for most teams in the country. She is playing behind Lexi Rodriguez, and her awards are all listed above. Rodriguez is excellent; perhaps the best libero in the country. Choboy is electric and will never give up on a ball. She passes serve well and her teammates have supreme confidence in her. Watch #6, Laney Choboy, she is great.
What does Mizzou need to do against Nebraska to have a chance at pulling off the upset?
Mizzou needs to serve aggressively in order to limit the Nebraska offense options. There are multiple players on the Mizzou roster with the ability to serve both aces and disruptive serves to the opponent offense. Serve and pass is a critical element to this match up. Mizzou gains an advantage with tough serving.
Do you have a prediction for the match?
This will be an exciting match to watch with the athletic ability and volleyball skill on both teams. There will be crushing kills and spectacular digs to ‘wow’ any fan. This is a special Nebraska team that has a deep belief in themselves. They thrive on competition. The Huskers will be pushed by the talented Tigers but will up the ante and their play, resulting in a win 3-1 for Nebraska.
What should people who haven’t been to a Nebraska match at the Devaney Center know before going?
This venue was specifically remodeled in 2013 for volleyball. It holds about 8,500 people and has a sellout streak over 300. There is not a bad seat or place to stand in the whole gym. The fans in Devaney know volleyball and pride themselves on their knowledge. Nebraska’s head coach, John Cook, will ask fans if a ball is in or out when it is close to determine if he will challenge the call. Fans in the Devaney Center love their Huskers but they also just love volleyball. They will cheer for opposing teams when the rally is long or the players show great effort.
What should people who have never been to Lincoln know about the town?
Lincoln is a great place to watch volleyball and eat! There are tons of great places to eat with a huge variety of food. The Historic Haymarket district has a unique feel and lots of options for eating or shopping.
Do you see anyone stopping Big Red in the NCAA Tournament?
There are so many quality teams across the country. Nebraska will be pushed multiple times over the course of the tournament. I look forward to the possible match against Kentucky vs Nebraska in the regionals. Kentucky is a hot team with a 17-match winning streak. They seem to get better each match.
On the other side of the bracket both Stanford and Wisconsin are challenging matches. Nebraska played both of these teams this season but as expected all three teams have evolved and improved through the season. Both teams present a real challenge to anyone, including the Huskers.
Thanks again to BVBMerry from Corn Nation for her great responses!