LINCOLN, Neb. — Outside hitter Andie Malloy summed up Nebraska’s sweep of Washington in one word: “Fun.” It was part of a bigger statement on how the Huskers came out against the Pac-12 champions, but that’s how Malloy ended it. In front of a crowd of mostly Nebraska fans, it’s hard to categorize it as much else.
A part of the fun is getting back to the Final Four for the defending national champions. By sweeping Washington – 25-16, 25-10 and 25-21 – the Huskers secured their ticket to the Final Four in Columbus, Ohio, where they will face either Creighton or Texas on Thursday.
“It’s awesome,” setter Kelly Hunter said. “It kind of brings up memories from last year and how excited we were and to go to a new city. I know a lot of us haven’t been [to Columbus] so that’s exciting but [also] just knowing that we have potentially two games left. Coach always says there’s only going to be four teams practicing on Monday so to be one of those four, that’s a great stat.”
“It means a lot,” Malloy said. “I’m so excited. I’m blessed to be a part of this team. Just the experience that these girls have, just being there and being in the tournament and going to the Final Four. I love my teammates and I’m just thankful to be here.”
Getting to this point wasn’t easy though. Head coach John Cook almost saw his team’s chances escape them against Penn State on Friday, but the Huskers were able to bounce back and win that match after being down 0-2. Cook credits that match to Nebraska’s response against Washington on Saturday.
“Look at Wisconsin yesterday against Ohio State, us against Penn State,” Cook said. “It’s tough to beat a time when they have nothing really … They’re in the tournament but they’re not expected to win so there’s no pressure on a Penn State or Ohio State, for example. All the pressure was on us. If we blow it at home, then it’s a tough loss. I just think, and you saw how well Penn State played, to get through that is a huge mental barrier. It’s weight off of us.
“We played so much freer today than we did yesterday. Again, as you go through this tournament, you have to get in some situations where you’ve got to dig out. The last time we were in a tough situation was at Minnesota and we almost dug out of that. It gives you a lot of confidence when you dig out and it’s almost over and you dig out and come back. That’s what yesterday was and that’s what gave us huge confidence going into today.”
As a result of that confidence, the Huskers hit an impressive .437 in the match. Malloy’s 15 kills and another 10 kills from outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen led that for the Huskers.
“I knew we were pumped from yesterday and like coach said, I knew we had that fight in us from yesterday, just going out there today and continuing today,” Rolfzen said. “It’s something I definitely felt throughout the whole day. The result didn’t surprise me because we were really excited and we were playing loose.”
Comparing this year to last, Hunter said the difference is that Nebraska just wanted to get to the Final Four in 2015. This year, the Huskers have a bigger goal, which is to repeat as national champions.
“Well, this group is trying to do what has never been done before,” Cook said. “In 2000, we came back and went to the Final Four in 2001. In 2006, we didn’t make it so this is our next shot. It’s a hard thing to do. We’re trying now and we have one goal left: to make history here.”
As for whom the Huskers would prefer to play on the road to making history, Cook has one team in mind.
“It would be great to play Creighton,” Cook said. “You talk about the volleyball world going crazy. In Nebraska, that would be special.”
While the Huskers are starting to look forward, the seniors on the team did stop briefly to appreciate their final time playing at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The seniors know it won’t be the last time they see Husker Nation though.
“I’ve been essentially committed to this program for eight years and it will be weird coming in to practice on Monday and Tuesday knowing we won’t play here again,” Rolfzen said. “It was a great four years to play in front of the best fans in college volleyball. We know they’re going to come out to Columbus too. We know Husker Nation may not be at home but we’re still going to have their support this weekend.”
Malloy felt the same.
“It was so special and just like Kadie said, I was only here for a year but I got to experience the best fans in college volleyball,” Malloy said. “Devaney has become a home even in such a short amount of time. The atmosphere that has been built here in this program is so surreal. It was just a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Part of keeping Devaney special for Cook is continuing to develop a strong student section. Seeing the fans – and especially the students – show up in full force inspires Cook to continue building a great atmosphere and experience for volleyball fans.
“I just want to say one thing about our fans,” Cook said. “We asked them to come at 11 in the morning, at 3 in the afternoon and I think our basketball team is playing Kansas. The students were lined up two hours before and we went down there and I asked the event people to start letting them in because they were freezing out there. Two hours before, there was a line all the way out to whatever road that is out there with our students.
“One of my goals is to have a great student section and for those guys to show up like that on this weekend and last weekend is awesome. It feels really, really good to feel that support from our students.”
It may be the end of the road for Nebraska at Devaney for the 2016 season, but history is still out there to be made. With Husker fans behind the team, Nebraska will head to Columbus to chase another national title and a little more “fun.”
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.