s-NCAAVBPreview

Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins (white) goes up for a spike during the match against Ohio State at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, March 12, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Postseason has arrived for Nebraska volleyball. 

It’s a familiar place for the Huskers, who are making their 40th straight appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. 

The No. 10 overall seed Huskers will be hosting the first two rounds of the tournament, at the Devaney Center, for their sub-region and will go toe-to-toe with Big South Conference champions, Campbell (21-9) in the opening match. The match is set for Friday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. and will precede the 4:30 p.m. bout between Florida State (19-9) and Kansas State (15-12). 

The winners will meet on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m to advance to the regional semifinals.

“We just need to focus,” senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said following the tournament selection show on Sunday. “We don't know much about the teams we’re playing. This tournament will be about us and the things we can control. When our team does that, playing as a team and not individuals, we’re unstoppable.”

Friday will mark Nebraska's first meeting in program history with Campbell, who’s making its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State is an opponent Nebraska faced earlier in the season, on Aug. 28 as a part of the Husker Invitational, which ended as a 3-1 Husker win. Nebraska hasn't squared up against Florida State since 2014.

The Huskers, who finished the regular season 21-7 overall, took second in the Big Ten this season, behind No. 4 Wisconsin who is on the other side of the bracket for the NCAA Tournament. 

Nebraska is in the same region as No. 2 overall seed Texas, along with No. 7 Kentucky and No. 12 Washington. If the Huskers make it to the third round of the tournament, reigning national champion Kentucky would be the most likely candidate for Nebraska to face. The Huskers do have an opportunity to host an NCAA Regional only if they make it to round three and both Texas and Kentucky, who both made the National Championship last season, were eliminated. 

“I had no expectations for this,” head coach John Cook said following the tournament selection show. “It’ll be an interestingly fun first and second round here. The bracket’s also interesting. You got Kentucky who won the SEC, Washington who won the Pac-12 and Texas who won the Big 12.”

This tournament also marks the 36th time that Lincoln has hosted NCAA first and second-round competition. It’s the first time Nebraska will be hosting since 2019, with the 2020 tournament being a bubble-style tournament hosted by the University of Nebraska Omaha. The Huskers’ match against Campbell can be viewed on ESPN+ and listened to on Husker Radio Network. 

“Anytime we get to play at home is a blessing,” Stivrins said. “The team is really excited. For a lot of them it’s their first time experiencing a tournament. So to have it be here with our home crowd is going to be such an advantage for us.”

Nebraska has made it to the Regional Final, nine straight times, and are looking to return to the Final Four for the 16th time in program history. If Nebraska makes that a 10th straight appearance, it will most likely take on Texas, who took down Nebraska 3-1 in the regional final on its way to the runner-up spot last season. This year's NCAA Championship is set for December 16 through 18 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. But, for Cook and the team, they can’t be looking too far ahead. 

“We’re focusing on Campbell,” Cook said. “You can’t be thinking ahead, because there’s probably going to be a lot of upsets. I think this bracket can look a whole lot different in a week from today.”

According to Cook, the team needs to beat all the best teams to get back to the Final Four. But, they’ve also been down the path of being upset before, hence Cook stressing that no team can be overlooked. 

Back in 2011, Kansas State surprised the then No. 2 Huskers by taking them down 3-2 in the second round, and is Cook’s only first weekend loss as a Husker coach in the tournament. For Nebraska, nothing can be taken for granted early on.

But, Cook also knows that his team is ready for anything that comes their way. 

“We’re battle tested,” Cook said. “We know what it’s like to go in every night and have to play great. We’re just getting better and better every weekend which we try to do this time of year.”

sports@dailynebraskan.com