The Nebraska volleyball team was the co-champion in maybe the best volleyball conference in the country, has a 13-match winning streak, and had its best statistical season of the past five years. So coach John Cook sees no reason why the Huskers shouldn’t be thinking about winning a national championship when they start the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
“I told them all week that statistically in the last five years this is the best team we’ve had statwise and pointwise, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t see themselves as competing, and winning a national championship,” Cook said. “We certainly have played the level of volleyball throughout the year to warrant us to say that, and now we got to go get it. For us this is a sprint now. It’s six matches, as long as we advance.”
Nebraska opens the three-week tournament by playing first-time tournament team Stony Brook. If the fifth-ranked Huskers advance, they’ll play one of two unranked teams, Washington State or Florida State, in Saturday’s second round.
Cook said this has been one of the most fun and rewarding seasons he’s had in 18 seasons as head coach at Nebraska, regardless of how it goes in the tournament.
This season has flown by, Cook said, especially compared to last year, when the Huskers played with the weight of expectations that came with being expected to win the Big Ten and compete for the national championship.
“This year it’s been just a great climb of a team and a journey,” Cook said. “They’re having fun and we got a lot of new people in new roles, and freshmen playing. It’s just a new adventure for them, and I think that’s why it’s gone by so fast. And we train great. These guys train really well and go hard every practice, so our practices are fun and super-competitive. Those freshmen really bring a dynamic to this team that I think is way undervalued of what they bring for the competitiveness in practice, and how hard we have to work.”
When last year’s season abruptly ended with a 3-0 loss against Texas in the national semifinals, Cook wondered if the season had worn the Huskers down. That included a five-set loss at Minnesota in the final week of the Big Ten season, having to beat Michigan on the final night of the regular season to win the Big Ten title, and a brutally tough match against Penn State in the NCAA Sweet 16.
This year, the Huskers don’t have the heavy burden of expectations, Cook said.
“I think this team is going to be loose and play really aggressive and go for it,” Cook said.
The Huskers also want to show they’re better than the No. 5 seed they received for the tournament.
“I feel like there are people out there who still don’t believe we can be the best, and we know what we’re capable of that and we’re just going to take it point-by-point, and hopefully we’ll make it to Kansas City (for the Final Four),” senior middle blocker Briana Holman said.
Cook buying tickets for students: Cook will be buying tickets for the first 120 students who want to attend the matches on Friday and Saturday. He said that's a thank you to the students for coming to all the regular-season matches, and he also likes the home-court advantage the student section gives the team.
“I was a college student, and I probably wouldn’t have paid to go see a volleyball match for the NCAA (Tournament), but the fact I get a free ticket, it’d be pretty cool,” Cook said.
Hey @HuskerBlock, Coach @jcook2 has an early Christmas present for you! Free 🎫🎟️ for the first 120 students on Friday (and hopefully Saturday)! #WithEachOtherForEachOther #Huskers pic.twitter.com/RPuNdQPWjc— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) November 30, 2017
* The Pac-12 led all conferences with nine teams selected for the tournament. The Big Ten was second with eight teams.
* Former Husker Hannah Werth is on the coaching staff at Missouri State, which plays Michigan State in the first round Friday in Omaha.
* The challenge review system won't be used for the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, because not all 16 host sites have the equipment.
* Taylor Landfair, who is maybe the best player nationally in the high school sophomore class, has committed to Minnesota, according to her club team, Sports Performance Volleyball Club of Chicago. Landfair had made a few visits to Nebraska.