By far the most successful program this decade at Nebraska, the volleyball program has gone to new levels not seen in any Husker athletic program since the glory days of football coach Tom Osborne. Nebraska has made the last four Final Fours and is currently fighting for a fifth consecutive appearance, making it a prime team for best volleyball program this decade.
The end of the decade also means tons of lists, and the question “Which team was the best of the decade?” gets thrown around. For Husker volleyball, choosing the best team of the decade is like choosing your favorite flavor of ice cream: it all depends on what you prefer.
Nebraska volleyball has won two national championships, made four Final Four appearances, nine regional appearances and has made the tournament every year this decade. The impressive team accolades do not compare to what head coach John Cook says is harder, winning the Big Ten.
The Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011 and have won at least a share of the conference three times. Nebraska won in 2011, 2016 and 2017 and won outright in 2011 and 2016. The 2011 and 2016 teams both lost to former Big 12 teams in the tournament.
2011 was Cook’s only first-weekend loss, losing to Kansas State in five sets while Texas swept Nebraska in a 2016 Final Four match. Ironically, the 2016 Huskers had the best winning percentage of the decade.
The 2018 Huskers had the underdog run, but they ultimately came up short of a national title despite not dropping a set until the Final Four. The last four years are one of the most impressive peaks ever in collegiate sports, which means Nebraska’s best team should come from the second half of this decade.
Though it may be obvious, the best Husker team had to reach the pinnacle of college volleyball: winning a national championship. Only the 2015 and 2017 teams have that honor which creates a debate between which is the better champion.
The 2015 Huskers had the more dominant postseason run, dropping only three sets. That team also had the Rolfzen twins, along with freshman Mikaela Foecke and sophomore Kelly Hunter running the offense. They also had a stellar defense, but 2017 just beats this group out.
The 2017 Huskers did not have the Rolfzen twins, but instead had the senior version of Hunter running the show. A senior setter can make up huge differences for the offense which was proven in 2017 when Nebraska hit over .280 despite having a perceived loss of talent.
Foecke as a junior was much improved and so was libero Kenzie Maloney. An experienced back row was just as important, something both 2015 and 2017 had, but the 2017 Huskers’ biggest advantage was its middle blocker.
Freshman Lauren Stivrins and senior Briana Holman anchored the middle, giving Nebraska a distinct advantage as both were electric on offense and defense. Another distinct advantage 2017 holds is that it won the Big Ten.
Nebraska finished the season tied with Penn State at the top of the conference with a record of 19-1 even though the Huskers swept the Nittany Lions the one time the two teams played that season. While both teams had the same conference record, Penn State was the No. 1 overall seed while Nebraska got the No. 5 seed.
This did not affect Nebraska as it lost just one set through the first four rounds, including beating regional host Kentucky 3-1 in the Elite 8. Unlike 2015, the postseason run got much tougher in the Final Four when Nebraska squared off against Penn State.
The epic match went five sets, but Nebraska was down 2-1 at one point and at match point in the fourth set down 26-25. A comeback there set up a memorable fifth set that the Huskers won 15-11.
The rest is history as Nebraska beat Florida 3-1 with relative ease and gave Cook his second national title in three years. A dominant win cemented Cook’s legacy as one of the best volleyball coaches of all time.