Nebraska has spent most of the season as the top-ranked team in the country, and now they’ll enter NCAA Tournament play as the top overall seed.
“I think any time we get the No. 1 [seed], and any team that would be getting the No. 1 is going to be super happy because you know that your hard work has paid off and then you are known as technically the best team in the country at that time,” junior setter Kelly Hunter said. “Like Coach [John Cook] always says, being No. 1 has a lot of pressure behind it but that’s fun; we love getting everyone’s best shot and getting to play at home and hosting a regional is really exciting.”
Nebraska (27-2, Big Ten champions) will play New Hampshire, the American East champion who went 21-10 this season, in the first round on Friday at 7 p.m.
The winner will move on to play the winner of Wichita State and TCU. No. 8 seed Washington (the Pac-12 champion), No. 9 seed Michigan State and No. 16 seed Penn State are also in the Huskers’ part of the bracket. Nebraska, Washington and Penn State have accounted for nine of the past 11 NCAA championships.
Nebraska played Wichita State in last year’s tournament and has faced Washington in each of the last two tournaments.
“Nothing ever surprises me in the NCAA Tournament,” Cook said. “What I like is we know those teams because we play them every year. Wichita [State] potentially, Washington and Penn State. We know those teams, we know what to expect, we know how to prepare and we just have to take care of business and get to those matches; they have to do the same.”
The Huskers weren’t in any danger of missing the tournament, or even falling out of the top four seeds. However, with their recent loss at Minnesota it opened the door for the Gophers to jump in front of them,
“We knew it would be one or two,” Hunter said. “We’ve been playing well but we did just lose last week, so we didn’t really know what was going to happen. We had a good season overall so I think we were waiting for it, hoping for it.”
Minnesota is the second seed and Wisconsin is the third, giving the Big Ten the top three national seeds. Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue also made the tournament, giving the Big Ten eight teams in the field, including six of the 16 national seeds.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Cook said. “I’m surprised we didn’t get more teams from the Big Ten in because I think it was the most competitive conference season I’ve ever seen or been a part of. I’ve had several coaches across the country text me like, ‘that might be one of the hardest championships to win in college sports right now is the Big Ten volleyball conference’ … It’s going to be interesting to see how the Big Ten teams do against some of these other teams.”
As the top overall seed, Nebraska will get to host in each of the first four rounds as long as the Huskers keep advancing.
“I think it’s great; it’s going to be great to start here with our home crowd and hopefully if we take care of business, then we can stay here for the regionals as well,” junior middle blocker Briana Holman said. “That will definitely help us to have that Husker energy and our Husker fans helping us out and cheering us on.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.