Wisconsin overpowers Oregon in four to claim its spot in NCAA semifinals
December 9, 2023
August 29, 2023
There are no trophies or titles on the line Wednesday night when Nebraska takes on Omaha, but it will be the biggest volleyball match of the year.
More than 90,000 tickets were sold for the match in Memorial Stadium as a part of Volleyball Day in Nebraska. The Huskers and Mavericks will play at 7 p.m. tomorrow following an exhibition match between Division II powers Wayne State and Nebraska-Kearney. A concert from country musician Scotty McCreery will cap off the night.
“I don’t think really any of us are able to grasp what’s really happening and going down tomorrow, but I think it will hit us all once we are walking out of the tunnel,” Nebraska junior Merritt Beason, a transfer from Florida, said on Tuesday. “93,000 people is kinda hard to wrap your head around, and the fact that they’re here for us and here supporting us is kinda crazy to think about. It’s hard to put it into perspective and prepare for it honestly.”
The event was a massive undertaking for the Nebraska athletic department and university. In-person classes were canceled. Departments chipped in with logistics and planning. Alcohol was approved to be sold in the stadium for the second time following a Garth Brooks concert in 2021.
Nebraska announced the game six months ago, and administrators began figuring out how to put a volleyball court in the middle of a football stadium. Because of the crown of the field, it couldn’t be placed directly on the turf.
The events management team began setting up the court on Thursday night after the Huskers’ football practice. They laid a protective layer over the turf and constructed a reinforced platform for the Teraflex court.
Nebraska coach John Cook has seen a lot in his storied coaching career, but he doesn’t fully know what to expect for the match. He’s spent the last few weeks preparing his players for the event by reviewing the schedule and getting in the right frame of mind. However, he doesn’t know how to react to a stadium of fans cheering for volleyball.
“I’m just trying to own each moment. This is all new to me, too,” he said. “I did have this thought yesterday that this is as close as I’m going to be to being the head football coach at Nebraska playing down here. This is going to be awesome.”
While the matches will celebrate volleyball in the state, it will also be about building the future and honoring the past. Around 40 buses full of high school and younger volleyball players will drive to Lincoln to attend the match.
The event will also serve as the largest reunion of former volleyball players. Because tickers in the Devaney Center are hard to come by, Nebraska can’t honor more than a team or two at a time. On Wednesday night, they will welcome almost 100 former Huskers and their families.
For sophomore Bekka Allick, she’s thankful for the opportunity to play in front of legends and be lucky enough to be on the court.
“We’ve had all kinds of athletes come through this legacy program,” she said. “Why didn’t this happen when Jordan Larson and Sarah Pavan were here? All of these amazing legends and it’s us. We were chosen to have this, and (Cook) pushes this on us every day. An ‘attitude of gratitude.’ We don’t know when this is going to happen again, if ever.”
The action on the court will be unlike anything most of the players have experienced. While the Huskers have played beach volleyball, they haven’t adhered to the indoor rules while playing outside.
The biggest challenge might be the uncontrollable weather – dealing with the sun, wind and humidity. Beason said she will have lots of towels nearby to dry off and they might change uniforms between the second and third sets. Beason said the only part of her preparations that she’s changing is putting on sunscreen before the match.
“For the most part, everything will be pretty much the same,” she said. “We’re just playing volleyball and so I think I’m just going to look at it that way. Try not to hype it up too much. Then, in the moment, soak it all in. But I don’t want to overthink it too much going into the game. It’s just another day playing volleyball.”
The Huskers own a 17-1 record against Omaha, but they’ve played just twice since the Mavericks transitioned to Division I in 2011 — a sweep in 2017 and a five-setter in 2021.
This past weekend, Nebraska opened the season with with sweeps over Utah State, Lipscomb and SMU.
The big storyline of the weekend was the prominent roles of the Huskers’ freshmen.
Setter Bergen Reilly started all three matches and looked comfortable running the offense. Cook said he went with the product of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, native because she was a few points better than junior setter Kennedi Orr.
“She’s usually one of our best servers. She’s getting better as a blocker. She sets a really good tempo. She sets the middle really well,” Cook said. “Her back sets are world-class. If you really know volleyball, some of her back sets are elite level.”
Reilly’s classmate, outside hitter Harper Murray, was the beneficiary of many of those assists, and she averaged 3.67 kills per set on a .343 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Andi Jackson started two matches and recorded 2.17 kills per set, hitting .526, and had 1.83 blocks per set. Defensive specialist Laney Choboy also provided solid floor defense and was named to the all-tournament team.
The Huskers do have several concerns despite the perfect record. Nebraska hit .253 as a team and juniors Lindsay Krause and Ally Batenhorst struggled at outside hitter. The duo finished the weekend with a combined 16 kills on 62 attacks. Sophomore Hayden Kubik saw limited time at the position and recorded errors on both swings.
Cook said the position is still up for grabs going into this week.
“They are getting great sets,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody’s going to step up and take that spot.”