For the third straight year the Nebraska Cornhuskers Women’s Volleyball Team has made the final four of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament. The Huskers entered the tournament as the number five seed in the tournament as well as number five in the AVCA Coaches’ Poll.
Joining Nebraska in Kansas City this weekend will be #1 Penn State, #2 Florida, and #3 Stanford. Nebraska will play Penn State at 6:00 Central on Thursday night December 14 on ESPN. That match will be followed by the Florida-Stanford match, also on ESPN.
Nebraska’s season got off to a rocky start with senior setter Kelly Hunter missing the first two matches with an injury. Nebraska dropped both of those matches, one of them being to Florida. It was in the VERT Challenge, which was in Gainsville. Nebraska fell in five sets to the Gators. The Huskers also fell to Oregon that weekend.
Penn State (33-1) and Nebraska (30-4) were the co-champions of the B1G. Nebraska technically won the automatic qualifier spot in the tournament from the conference, but since the B1G is arguably the best volleyball conference in the country, eight teams made the tournament, making the automatic qualifier position moot. Penn State’s only loss on the year was to Nebraska. Nebraska’s only conference loss was to Wisconsin.
Stanford (30-3) won the Pac-12 Conference. While the B1G had eight teams in the tournament this year, the Pac-12 had nine. Stanford dropped two matches to Penn State on consecutive weekends in early September. Stanford’s only conference loss was to Washington in Seattle.
Florida (29-1) was co-champion of the SEC and made the Final Four in a five-set win over the University of Southern California. Florida’s only loss this season was to SEC co-champion Kentucky. Kentucky was the automatic qualifier from the SEC.
Nebraska swept Penn State at Rec Hall on September 22. It was the first time that Penn State had been swept at home since 2003. This re-match of two traditional powers should be a battle. The recent history of the rivalry has been almost entirely Nebraska. The last four matches dating to last season have gone Nebraska’s way.
There is reason to believe that this match will go Penn State’s way. In virtually every match except the September 22 match this season, the Nittany Lions have looked all but unbeatable. Michigan State was an upstart this season in the conference, and Penn State handled them easily. Penn State handled Wisconsin both times they played this year, and also took care of Minnesota when they played.
However, Penn State inexplicably dropped a set to Howard in the first round, and also dropped a set to Pittsburgh. Additionally, the Huskers have elevated their level of play this season. Jazz Sweet has looked virtually unstoppable at the right side attacker, and having dynamic hitters at every position, along with an experienced, capable, first-team-All-American setter means the Husker offense has been clicking.
Stanford has played a much tougher schedule than Florida this season, but that’s the nature of Pac-12 play versus SEC play. Like the B1G schedule, the Pac-12 is a gauntlet. I fully expect Stanford, the defending National Champion, to win this match.
No, I didn’t forget. I just wanted to make you earn it. When the bracket was released, I’d have fully anticipated Penn State to win this easily, but the tournament has written a different story. Nebraska has played ridiculously well. Penn State has looked vulnerable. Nebraska won the serve and pass game at Penn State, and that part of their game has been phenomenal through the tournament.
Nebraska should take this match. It will go the distance, five sets, but Nebraska will win this match. These are the two best teams left in the tournament (though Stanford has more first team All-Americans than either Penn State or Nebraska) and have played the toughest schedule to get here.
That means that the winner of the Penn State-Nebraska match should be the national champion. Nebraska should beat Stanford. I anticipate that match going four sets.
If Nebraska makes the National Championship match, CornNation will be there. Follow me on Instagram for live broadcasts from the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Listen to this week’s episode of the Five Hearts Podcast to hear more in-depth discussion with CornNation’s own Hoss Reuter on Husker Volleyball, the new football coaching staff, and Star Wars.
Editor’s Addendum: For another experienced voice on today’s big volleyball match, take a look at this preview from the original architect of our legendary volleyball program, Terry Pettit.