The Nebraska volleyball team bid farewell to the hollowed Coliseum in their typically dominant style, sweeping Northern Iowa on Friday evening in front of the 181st consecutive sellout. Now it's onto the Sweet 16 with a built-in homecourt advantage to be played in Omaha. See below for more on the volleyball postseason and Nebraska's pursuit of the Final Four in Louisville, Kentucky.
But first, let's provide a general depiction of Cornhusker volleyball and its impact and importance to the state of Nebraska. The allures of Cornhusker volleyball shouldn't be understated, especially in our football and collegiate-sports crazed state of Nebraska. Allow me to represent that based on a personal anecdote from an experience a few weeks ago.
It was the Friday night prior to the Husker football game against Minnesota. I had a buddy down from Minnesota and his brother from Montana. We went to a pub to sip on some suds and watch some college football. The Husker volleyball team just happened to be playing the Gophers that night. Upon requests from multiple patrons, the pub placed the volleyball match on a prominent TV, much to the chagrin of my company. They grumbled for a minute, then went into a tirade about the volleyball uniforms, predominately the short-shorts and how men only watch volleyball for the scenery. But after the first couple sets, their tone changed and they were hooked. The match went five sets, and after the fourth set they were insistent that we leave so we could get home in time for the fifth (I live two blocks from the pub, conveniently enough!). Yeah, they were cheering for the Gophers, and Nebraska ended up losing, but they couldn't believe how vested they had become.
Furthermore, down at the morning tailgate prior to the football game, the Husker volleyball match from the previous evening came up in conversation with other Cornheads. My buddies felt obliged to chime in and offer their thoughts and newfound conversion to the athleticism and enthusiasm of big-time college volleyball. It was suggested to the Gopher fans that if the football game got out of hand, go ahead and start bragging about their volleyball victory over the Cornhuskers, and that would certainly spark some teeth gnashing by those clad in red. "You may get us in football, but we took your ass out in volleyball." In most any other environment, that type of bragging would be laughed at, but not in Nebraska. That would be met with some serious discussions.
Did I convert them into unabashed college volleyball or Cornhusker fans? No. But I guarantee they developed an appreciation and admiration for the level of play, the excitement of the matches, and a healthy respect for the big-time atmosphere surrounding the Husker volleyball program. They were simply incredulous on how important volleyball was to Nebraska.
One final testament to the popularity of volleyball in Nebraska is the incredible number of division I recruits coming out of our sparsely populated state. It is nothing short of phenomenal. Not only are homegrown young women speckled throughout the Nebraska roster this year and in years past, but plenty of others leave the state to play for Kansas State, Iowa State, and many other big programs. Volleyball is kind of a big deal in Nebraska.
Nebraska ended the B1G season in second place at 15-5. Penn State won the conference with only one loss, that coming at the hands of the Cornhuskers. Nebraska is obviously battle tested. The Huskers also have prominent senior leadership with All Big Ten players Lauren Cook, setter, and outside hitters Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth. Big Ten All-Freshman selection Meghan Haggerty provides strength as a middle blocker.
Now let's talk about the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. The Big Ten is well represented in the Sweet 16 with six teams. The Pac 12 has four teams remaining. The Huskers dispatched Maryland Eastern Shore in three straight sets and Northern Iowa in three straight sets to advance to the Sweet 16. Nebraska faces old nemesis Washington in the Regionals in Omaha this Friday, December 7th. Washington defeated perennial power Hawaii to reach this round. The winner of Nebraska vs. Washington takes on the winner of Oregon vs. BYU in the quarterfinals. Winner of that one goes on to the Final Four in Louisville, Kentucky. If Nebraska makes it that far, they will more than likely have to face Penn State in the semifinal.
Do the Huskers have enough to make a serious run at the Final Four and eventual National Championship? I sure wouldn't discount them, not with John Cook and the senior leadership, but there are more talented teams out there. Playing the Regionals in Omaha should be a huge advantage. After being shocked last year in the second round by Kansas State, Nebraska's earliest exit in the tournament since 1993, the Huskers aren't taking anything lightly.
It would be pretty special for this team to make a run at the Final Four, which this group of seniors has yet to accomplish. They have two more matches to win in Omaha to get there. Thousands of Cornheads will be in attendance cheering them on.