For the fourth time in eight years, Washington will play Nebraska in the NCAA volleyball tournament. The Huskies will face the Cornhuskers on Friday in front of what is certain to be a loud, pro-Nebraska crowd in Omaha.
This has become habit-forming: For the fourth time in eight seasons, the Washington and Nebraska volleyball teams will meet deep in the NCAA tournament.
In 2005 it was the national championship match in San Antonio, won by the Huskies. In 2008, Nebraska rallied to win a regional final in Seattle. And in 2010, the Huskies won a regional semifinal at home.
All were hotly contested matches between top-shelf teams, and Friday’s showdown in a regional semifinal in Omaha, Neb. (4 p.m., online via ESPN3) will likely be no different.
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Both teams are 25-6. Both are top-10 teams in the coaches’ poll (UW No. 5, Nebraska No. 10). They play in the best volleyball conferences — the Big Ten has six teams in the sweet 16; the Pac-12 has four. This is UW’s seventh sweet-16 appearance in the past 10 years; it’s Nebraska’s ninth.
Both have tall lineups, run fast offenses and lean on blocking for defense.
One Cornhuskers advantage looms large: Omaha’s CenturyLink Center has drawn the four largest volleyball crowds in NCAA history, including 17,430 for a 2008 Final Four semifinal involving Nebraska. Friday the joint is expected to be packed, noisy and painted red.
So be it, says UW coach Jim McLaughlin, whose squad had to rally for a dramatic five-set win at home on Saturday against eighth-ranked Hawaii, the toughest second-round opponent any sweet-16 survivor had to face.
“It makes it tougher, but it also makes it better,” McLaughlin said of heading to Omaha. “I’m excited to go into that environment and see how good we are. Our kids are fired up. They can’t wait.”
McLaughlin targets early December as the end point of a season’s worth of practice, preparation and fine-tuning. Is this team peaking at the right time?
“I think we’re pretty close,” he said. “We’ve played longer spurts of being really good, and we’ve had spurts where the opponent was good and we didn’t take a step back. … We’ll never be perfect, but these guys can think the right thoughts and do the right things for longer periods of time.
“They’re staying in the present tense and performing their jobs at a high level.”
• Sophomore kills leader Krista Vansant has progressed well from a Nov. 16 ankle injury that forced her to miss three matches.
Said McLaughlin: “She’s getting better. Her ankle swelled up after the Central Arkansas game but it did not swell up much after Hawaii.”
|Tale of the tape|
|Conference finish||14-6 (tie 4th)||15-5 (tie 2nd)|
|Coaches’ poll||No. 5||No. 10|
|Tournament seeding||No. 13||No. 4|
|Hitting percentage||.255 (28th)||.296 (6th)|
|Kills per set||13.16 (105th)||14.03 (44th)|
|Blocks per set||3.36 (1st)||2.63 (31st)|
|Digs per set||13.16 (285th)||14.16 (238th)|
|Last national title||2005||2006|
|Last Final Four||2006||2008|