If you’ve been living under a rock, I have news for you: this is a really big weekend for Nebraska volleyball. If you don’t live under that rock, you probably already knew about the matches against #7 Minnesota and #5 Wisconsin.
We’ll talk about it from Nebraska’s perspective in a minute but let’s think wider first, conference and NCAA tournament wider.
Wisconsin sits in first place of the B10 at 15-1 (lone loss to Ohio State) and the highest seed from the Big Ten in national ranking at #5. Penn State played on Wednesday this week and beat Indiana so they are 15-2. Nebraska, Minnesota are 14-2.
There are two weekends remaining to the B10 season. As always, lots of scenarios of how the champion can be crowned and I don’t get paid enough to figure them all out but what I do know is that each of the four top teams (WI, NE, MN and PSU), all control their destiny...except PSU.
Nebraska plays Minnesota and Wisconsin this weekend then Maryland and Ohio State next weekend. Minnesota and Wisconsin are travel partners so they play the same remaining teams, Iowa and Nebraska this weekend, Penn State and Rutgers next weekend. So the top four teams play each other in the next two weeks except Penn State and NU (NU won their lone meeting back on Nov 2 in five sets).
This champion of the B10 plays into the national scene because that is likely the only number one seed in the tournament from the Big Ten. Volleyball only ranks 1-16 for the NCAA tournament but the important piece is being the top seed in your quadrant or region. The B10 will get one and only one of those coveted top four spots in the tournament.
Baylor beat Texas Wednesday night which means Texas will fall to #3, Baylor will move up to #2 and Pitt is the new #1. Stanford is the #4 so you can see why I say B10 will only get one of the top four spots in the tournament (they don’t even have one of the top four spots in the poll!). I don’t know what the selection committee will do, who of the above four teams mentioned won’t be a top four, but I strongly feel they will award the B10 a top four spot.
All right, really interesting stuff but back to focusing on Nebraska. They play Minnesota on Friday. This is the first meeting this season and there are some powerhouse players in the match.
Minnesota is the top blocking team in the conference. There are two primary reasons they are SO GOOD at blocking. One, they have a who’s who cast of dynamic, athletic and talented players. Two, they run a 6 hitter and 2 setter offense so the setter is always in the backrow and a tall much better blocker (and hitter) is always in the front row.
The stars for Minnesota are many, beginning with Stephanie Samedy hitting and blocking on the right side. Regan Pittman (6’5’’) is in the middle and has the most blocks per set in the Big Ten.
If the blocking is as good as MN is capable of, then the opposing attack needs to be balanced to keep the Minnesota block guessing. Then, once the ball is set, the hitters need to see the block and have a variety of shots at their disposal.
Nebraska’s tough serving should cause problems for the Gophers. They are prone to shanking passes. Plus, if the pass isn’t at least to the ten foot line they can’t set the middles or right side as easily. They don’t have as strong of outside hitters at Nebraska, so passing has to be good for them to be offensively successful.
Friday’s match at Minnesota can be seen on BTN/Fox Sports App and heard on Husker Sports Network radio affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and 105.9 FM in Omaha. Sunday’s match at Wisconsin can be seen on BTN/Fox Sports App and will air on 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. A live audio stream will be provided at Huskers.com and also on the official Huskers app. John Baylor is in his 26th season doing play-by-play for the Husker volleyball program. Lauren (Cook) West, a former All-America setter for the Huskers, will provide color commentary.