There’s a new No. 1 in college volleyball.
After a 7-0 start to the season and an upset loss by previous No. 1 Stanford, Nebraska has risen to the top of the poll. Now the Huskers will have to defend that ranking when the Cardinal come to town for a mid-week match.
“We got it done this weekend,” Coach John Cook said. “We had some good matches, had to win some close games, lost a close game so I think we learned a little bit from that. On to this week, we’ve got Stanford Wednesday. We want to try to play the best teams before we head into the Big Ten and so our team’s going to have to go to another level between now and Wednesday from how we’ve been playing. That’s our challenge this week, and then we’ve got Wichita State on Saturday.”
The Huskers went 3-0 at the Ameritas Players Challenge, sweeping High Point and Denver before beating Loyal Marymount in four. The Cardinal traveled to State College last week for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, beating No. 4 Penn State 3-1 on Friday then losing to No. 8 Minnesota in four sets on Saturday. The loss snapped a 37-match winning streak for Stanford dating back to the second week of the 2018 season.
“I think that now we’re going to get Stanford’s best shot because I think they’re a little upset probably by that loss, so I’m excited for Wednesday,” junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said.
As for Nebraska, the Huskers already had all the motivation they needed after seeing their season come to an end at the hands of the Cardinal in last year’s national championship. Nebraska fell three points short in game five and that has been driving the Huskers ever since.
“We always talk about those three points, those three points that we lost by,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “It’s been a huge part of this team as well because we’re going to be motivated and we don’t want to lose by three points again and we want to be three points better. Thinking about it, there is that revenge factor there but we can’t let it affect us too much because that’s when you get going and you have too much adrenaline and that’s when you kind of get out of hand. I think we just need to control that a little bit.”
Stanford didn’t fall very far after Saturday’s loss, however. Wednesday’s match will pit No. 1 against No. 2 in a showcase of the sport’s best.
“I think it’s great,” Cook said. “It probably couldn’t set up better. The No. 1 and 2 teams, the two teams that played for the national championship last year, it’s here in Devaney, it’s going to be in front of a big crowd, TV. This is what we want in college volleyball. We need to find ways to do more of this.”
The Huskers are expecting a big-time atmosphere for the match.
“I know it’s going to be crazy,” Hames said. “It’s going to be fun and we have the best fans in the nation so I know they’re going to come and they’re going to be super loud. I know there’s going to be a ton of support even from people who can’t go to the game. I think that’s pretty awesome.”
Stanford returns nearly everyone from last year’s title-winning team including two-time AVCA National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer.
“It’s a new year, but Stanford is the champs,” Cook said. “It feels much different because we have a different team. Their team is pretty much the same team except for one player. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity for our team to be able to play against them for us to see where we’re at and how hard we have to compete and how clean of volleyball we have to play if we want to play with the best.”
Nebraska has two starters and a couple reserves who were not on the team yet when the two sides squared off last season. Hames shared the kind of advice she’s giving to the freshmen as they prepare for the biggest match of their young careers.
“Just telling them to go out there and be themselves and play how we play in practice,” Hames said. “I think that’s been a huge thing for us this year is just going out and performing how we do in practice because that’s good enough and that’s the Nebraska volleyball way. Just kind of talking to them about how a volleyball game’s a volleyball game; it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re going to go out there and play our best.”
After Nebraska’s win over Loyola Marymount, Cook said his team has to take it up another level across the board in order to comet with Stanford, and Hames said the way to do that is by taking care of the little details.
“I think the little things, like our communication and our errors, if we cut that stuff down then it will look a lot cleaner and the Nebraska volleyball way,” Hames said. “I think we’ve been there in practice and we’ve seen glimpses of it in games. I think it’s just playing at a consistent level for an entire match.”
The Huskers received 37 first place votes while Stanford received 23. No. 3 Texas got two votes while No. 6 Pittsburgh and the Golden Gophers, who moved up one spot to No. 7, received one.
“We embrace [the No. 1 ranking], but I feel like it’s one of those outside factors that we can’t let weigh in on us,” Hames said. “It’s going to be great being No. 1 but it doesn’t matter because anyone can lose. So being No. 1’s great, but you have to keep winning to stay No. 1.”
The Huskers will look to do just that on Wednesday. First serve is set for 7 p.m. CT on BTN.
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.