The third and final stage of the volleyball season has arrived. After navigating through the nonconference then surviving the Big Ten gauntlet, the Huskers are ready for the postseason.
“I kind of call it the third season,” senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “Obviously you have the preseason and then you have the Big Ten and now we’re here to the final run and I think that this is kind of just like new life for us, coming out and playing and playing hard and playing for something really tangible in an NCAA title and playing for that moment.”
A 24-6 regular season including eight wins over ranked opponents was good enough for the Huskers to secure the No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, according to the tournament selection committee.
The committee released the bracket during the tournament selection show on ESPNU Sunday night.
“It’s awesome just because it’s a long season — the season is super-long — and it’s a grind always, especially the Big Ten because we play a lot of big matches,” senior libero Kenzie Maloney said. “But it’s nice to see that all of our workouts from the summer and all of the big matches that we’ve played are finally paying off and we’re going to get to show people what we’re all about now in the tournament.”
Nebraska will host at least the first and second rounds at the Devaney Center. First up for the Huskers is a match against Hofstra on Friday at 7 p.m. CT.
The Pride went 25-7 this season and won the Colonial Athletic Association Championship. Nebraska faced Hofstra in the first round of the tournament in 2014 and swept the Pride. Junior outside hitter Laura Masciullo leads the Pride with 3.68 kills per set on .290 hitting while freshman right side hitter Aisha Skinner is pitching in 3.25 kills per set on .233 hitting.
On the other side of the bracket, Arizona (22-10) will play Missouri (23-7). The winners of the two first-round matches in Lincoln will face off at the Devaney Center on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“I’m excited we’re at home,” Coach John Cook said. “I think it’s going to be some really high-level teams that are coming here so it’s going to be fun for us and our fans. I’ll just leave it at that — we have to get through the first weekend before we can worry about that.”
If both the Huskers and the Golden Gophers advance to the Sweet 16, the Huskers would travel to Minneapolis. If Minnesota were to fall in the first or second round, the Huskers would host the regional.
With a young team featuring three freshmen in key roles, Cook said he is grateful the Huskers will get to begin their postseason journey in the frindly confines of the Devaney Center.
“Last year I almost felt it was an advantage for us to go on the road in the regionals because I think that team felt pressure here,” Cook said. “I think for this year’s team, I think they will thrive being with our home crowd. I just think they feed off of it. We played our whole nonconference here, we’ve played a lot of matches here, so I think they’re really, really comfortable here. Football’s finished and I think our crowd’s going to be really fired up especially with the quality of teams coming in here. So I think it’s going to be really exciting.”
The Huskers tied with Wisconsin for third place in the Big Ten this season with a 15-5 league record. The top two teams in the Big Ten were both top-four seeds. Minnesota nearly swept conference play at 19-1 and was tabbed as the second overall seed behind Stanford. Illinois went 17-3 in the conference and was named the No. 3 seed.
In total, seven teams from the Big Ten qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin was tabbed as the No. 6 seed, Penn State drew the No. 8 seed and Purdue and Michigan made the tournament but did not receive a seed. Minnesota drew two other Big Ten teams – Nebraska and Purdue – in its regional while Illinois also has Wisconisn in its part of the bracket. Penn State and Michigan are in separate regionals on the other half of the bracket.
“I’m not surprised that a lot of Big Ten teams are going to be matching up because five of the top 10 seeds are from the Big Ten, so it’s hard to not have people match up,” Cook said. “It looks like a tough tournament. Everybody’s got challenges in every bracket.”
The Huskers are riding a streak of three straight trips to the Final Four and have captured two of the last three national championships. Nebraska has qualified for the tournament in 37 straight seasons. This year’s NCAA Championship will be held at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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.