By Greg Echlin for VolleyballMag.com
Throughout the state, ties run deep in Nebraska volleyball.
It will certainly be on display Wednesday when No. 17 Creighton plays second-ranked Nebraska in Omaha.
So no matter what happens, when it’s over Creighton’s Norah Sis and Nebraska’s Lindsay Krause will still be best friends.
Not that the two products of Papillion won’t do their best to make sure the other loses.
The two Nebraska powerhouses square off at 5 p.m. Central not in Creighton’s home arena, but in CHI Health Center in Omaha, which happens to be the site of this year’s NCAA Championship. Capacity is 17,352 and already more than 14,000 tickets have been sold, so it’s likely it will break the single-match record for the largest regular-season volleyball-only crowd in NCAA history. In 2018, these teams played this match before a crowd of 14,022. Last year, the match drew 11,279.
Creighton (5-1) is led by Sis, a 6-foot-1 sophomore outside hitter who was the 2021 VolleyballMag.com national freshman of the year. Krause is a 6-4 sophomore outside who was second in kills for the Huskers (5-0) and a key cog in their run to the NCAA title match.
This past August 5, Sis went to Lincoln to celebrate her birthday with Krause.
“I hadn’t seen her in a long time,” Sis said. “With our busy schedules, we don’t see each other very often, which is really sad. But we’re so excited to play against each other.”
Krause also cherished the visit.
“We celebrated and it’s been so much fun,” said Krause. “We’ve been best friends and played volleyball together since we were 10 years old.”
Sis and Krause were teammates for Premier Nebraska, the club team that won an 18s national championship before each player went off to their respective colleges.
In high school, Krause played for Skutt Catholic and got to play for the USA national team that won the FIVB U18 World Championship.
Sis, who was a state high school high-jump champion and provided the photos of them as juniors, took her swings at Papilion-LaVista in Omaha. Sis’s mother, Tracie, played volleyball at Kansas.
Krause was pretty much all-everything coming out of high school, regarded as the top prospect in the state. She was No. 1 on the 2021 VolleyballMag.com Fab 50 list that included, of course, Sis. (That list included quite a few Nebraska players, including Elle Glock, who went to USC; Rylee Gray, who is at Nebraska; Whitney Lauenstein, who is at Nebraska; Kennedi Orr, who is at Nebraska; and Phyona Schrader, who is from Iowa but also played for Premier and is at Notre Dame).
Krause made a verbal commitment to the Huskers before helping Skutt Catholic win four Nebraska Class B state titles in each of her four years.
Sis wasn’t about to wear a red uniform.
“I have always grown up being a Nebraska hater,” Sis admitted. “To be playing at Creighton now and having that rivalry be personal to me is fun.”
Sis said her anti-Husker bent came from her father, a fan of the Oklahoma football Sooners.
“He always grew up hating on Nebraska, so I just took that up.”
But because of Krause, Sis has a better perspective.
“It’s really fun to cheer her on in a sense that I’m not necessarily cheering for Nebraska as a whole. I’m rooting for her success,” Sis said.
Their friendship got its first serious test a year ago in this same matchup, one that Nebraska has won 20 times in a row. Creighton was 6-0 at the time and Nebraksa dominated as Sis took her first college loss.
“I was in a really bad mood after the game and she came over and hugged me,” said Sis, who added that last year’s loss still stings to this day. So she said she’s had this year’s matchup marked on her calendar for a long time.
Big East power Creighton, coming off a 31-4 season, opened 2022 in a tournament at Wyoming by beating Iowa State, Wichita State and the home team, then last weekend was at home and beat Northern Kentucky and USC before losing in four to Kentucky, which is up two spots to No. 14 in this week’s AVCA Poll.
Sis, the pick for the Big East preseason player of the year, leads the Bluejays with 90 kills (4.09/set) and is averaging 2.18 digs per set.
The Big Ten’s Nebraska hasn’t left home nor lost a set. The first weekend the Huskers swept Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Tulsa and Pepperdine. This past week, they swept Loyola Marymount and then Ole Miss. Through those five matches, Krause has 24 kills (1.92/set).
Both players and their teams hope this is not their last trip to CHI Center. That’s because the NCAA final four is in that same building, which, you may recall, was where the 2020 NCAA Championships were played (in April of 2021), but with limited fans.
Nebraska was ousted in the regional final that year, in Omaha, but in the adjacent convention center.
“I’ve always dreamed about the playing there,” said Krause, who attended the 2015 NCAA Championship that the Huskers won in Omaha. “I remember hearing then that it was going to be there in 2020 before all the COVID happened.”
The NCAA tournament is in December, of course.
“We talk about long-term goals,” Creighton coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth admitted. “I think this team has the talent to make a deep run, and it is fun that it’s in Omaha. But the pragmatic in me is, ‘Let’s focus on taking care of the non-conference season.’ ”
Nebraska plays before sold-out crowds in its 8,000-seat Devaney Center on campus in Lincoln. But Nebraska coach John Cook said don’t be surprised if this rivalry match in the future takes place at Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln when the Huskers are the host team.
“(Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts) has encouraged us to try it,” Cook said. “But the fact that we were already playing in Omaha this year, it didn’t make sense to move one more match to PBA. We’ve got to make sure PBA wants us. They’ve done the state tournament, so they’re used to hosting volleyball.”
Cook then predicted, “I can probably see that coming down the road at some point.”