Courtesy of Nebraska Athletics
The 10th-seeded Nebraska volleyball team (26-7) blazes into its 10th NCAA title match appearance and vies for its sixth national championship this Saturday, Dec. 18, facing No. 4 seed Wisconsin (30-3) at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with Paul Sunderland handling play-by-play duties, Salima Rockwell providing color commentary and Christine Williamson reporting courtside.
This weekend’s action will be carried on Huskers Radio Network with the NU radio team of John Baylor and Lauren Cook West. Baylor is in his 28th season handling play-by-play duties for the Husker volleyball program, and West, a former All-America setter at NU, will provide color commentary and is in her sixth straight year.
Huskers Radio Network will carry the matches on HRN radio affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. A live audio stream will be available at Huskers.com and on the Huskers app.
• Saturday’s NCAA Final is a rematch of the 2000 national championship match, won by Nebraska in five sets over the Badgers in the final season of sideout scoring in college volleyball.
• NU has advanced to the NCAA Final for the 10th time in program history and the fourth time in the past seven seasons.
• Nebraska previously appeared in the NCAA Final in 1986, 1989, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2015, 2017 and 2018, winning the national championship in 1995, 2000, 2006, 2015 and 2017.
• The Huskers’ 10 appearances in the NCAA Final tie Penn State for the second-most appearances in NCAA history. Stanford’s 17 appearances are the NCAA record.
• Nebraska advanced to the NCAA Final as the No. 10 seed. The Huskers are the fourth-lowest seed to advance to the national championship match since the NCAA began seeding teams in 2000. Stanford (No. 11 seed in 2011), Wisconsin (No. 12 seed in 2013) and BYU (unseeded in 2014) made the NCAA Final as lower seeds than this year’s Nebraska team.
• NU looks to become only the second double-digit seed to win the national championship since seeding began in 2000. Stanford won the 2004 NCAA title as the No. 11 seed and is the lowest seed to win the national championship.
• This year is NU’s 40th straight NCAA Tournament appearance — second most in NCAA history, behind only Penn State (41).
• Nebraska is 123-34 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers rank second in NCAA history in postseason wins and winning percentage (.783).
• NU is 46-27 on the road or on a neutral court in the NCAA Tournament.
• Lauren Stivrins will play in her third NCAA Final on Saturday after she helped the Huskers to the national title in 2017 and a runner-up finish in 2018. In her two NCAA Finals entering Saturday, Stivrins has 28 kills on only 45 swings, attacking at a .489 clip. She averaged 3.1 kills per set in her first two national championship matches.
Got Things Cookin’
• Saturday’s NCAA Final will mark head coach John Cook‘s 100th NCAA Tournament match as Nebraska’s head coach (82-17 record).
• Cook has guided 10 Husker teams to a Final Four and seven to the championship match in 22 seasons at Nebraska. Cook joined Penn State’s Russ Rose (13), UCLA’s Andy Banachowski (11) and Stanford’s Don Shaw (10) as the only coaches in NCAA history to lead a school to at least 10 NCAA Semifinals.
• Cook is 90-22 in his NCAA Tournament career. With the win over Pittsburgh, Cook became only the third coach in NCAA history to win 90 NCAA Tournament matches.
• He ranks third in NCAA history in career postseason victories and second among active coaches behind Penn State’s Russ Rose.
• Cook’s .827 postseason winning percentage at NU is the top mark in NCAA history among any coach with at least 20 NCAA Tournament matches at one school.
• Cook is 9-2 against Big Ten opponents in the NCAA Tournament as Nebraska’s head coach. The lone losses were in the 2008 NCAA Semifinal to Penn State and in the 2019 NCAA Regional Final at Wisconsin.
• Five-time national champion Nebraska has found itself in the NCAA Championship Final nine times before, most recently in 2018. Wisconsin has never won a national title, but Saturday marks its fourth finals appearance in program history. The Badgers last reached the title match in 2019.
• Nebraska carries a six-match win streak into Saturday’s final, in place since Nov. 27.
• Saturday will be NU’s third postseason match at Nationwide Arena. The Huskers fell 3-0 to Texas in the 2016 NCAA Semifinal at the venue before Thursday’s 3-1 semifinal victory over Pitt.
• Nebraska has 33 service aces in the NCAA Tournament with one match to play. In the past 15 NCAA Tournaments (dating back to 2007), the only teams with more aces in a postseason are Nebraska in 2017 (44), Penn State in 2007 (43), Penn State in 2012 (38), Stanford in 2018 (36) and Penn State in 2014 (35).
• NU has 268 to lead the NCAA Tournament field.
• The Huskers are holding opponents to a .149 hitting percentage in the NCAA Tournament. That ranks third among all tournament teams.
• Nebraska led the country with an average home attendance of 8,185 this season at the Devaney Center.
• Nebraska was the last unbeaten team in Big Ten play this year. Its 10-0 start was their second-best since joining the conference in 2011.
Scouting the Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin is 30-3 on the season after upsetting unbeaten No. 1 Louisville in five sets Thursday in the first NCAA Semifinal match. The victory extended the Badgers’ win streak to 10 matches, in place since Nov. 14.
Anna Smrek totaled a career-high 20 kills while hitting .704 to lead UW. Dana Rettke (14) and Grace Loberg (13) also had double-figure kill nights, and Rettke put up six blocks. Sydney Hilley recorded her third straight double-double with 58 assists and 11 digs alongside four stops at the net.
Wisconsin had three players honored on the AVCA’s 2021 All-America teams this week: first-teamers Rettke and Hilley and second-team selection Lauren Barnes. Rettke was also tabbed 2021 AVCA Player of the Year on Friday.
The Badgers rank second nationally for kills per set (14.71) and boast the sixth-best hitting percentage (.296). They are also third for assists per set (13.54) behind Hilley’s nation-leading 12.03 assists per set. Rettke swings at a .436 clip, which ranks third in the country, as well as eighth for blocks per set (1.38).
Kelly Sheffield is in his ninth season in Madison. He owns a record of 233-53 at UW and a career mark of 506-165 over 21 years as a head coach.
Noting the Series: vs. Wisconsin
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 19-10-1 and is 9-9 in the John Cook era.
The Badgers have won seven straight in the series, the last of which sealed UW’s third straight Big Ten title on the Badgers’ home court in a 3-1 decision after NU took the opening set. The Badgers also won this year’s meeting at the Devaney Center, 3-0 on Oct. 27.
All-time, Nebraska is 3-1 against Wisconsin in the postseason. NU won its second NCAA championship with a five-set win over the Badgers in 2000, John Cook‘s first year at Nebraska after spending seven years as the head coach at Wisconsin.
NEBRASKA VS. WISCONSIN IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
1991 — W, 3-0 (Regional Semifinal) — Lincoln, Neb.
1998 — W, 3-2 (Regional Final) — Lincoln, Neb.
2000 — W, 3-2 (NCAA Championship) — Richmond, Va.
2019 — L, 3-0 (Regional Final) — Madison, Wis.
With Saturday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin matchup on the horizon, the Big Ten Conference is assured of a national champion for the ninth time in the past 15 seasons. The Huskers won the Big Ten’s most recent national title (2017).
Nebraska, which finished as Big Ten runner-up this season, was one of a nation-leading eight conference teams to qualify for the 2021 NCAA Tournament field.
Saturday’s match marks the sixth NCAA Final between conference opponents. Wisconsin and Penn State (Big Ten) also met in the 2013 NCAA Final in the only other championship match in the 64-team era to feature teams from the same conference. Previously, Pac-10 teams played each other for the title in 1981, 1984, 1992 and 1994.