Nebraska volleyball earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but getting to the title game won’t be an easy feat.
After a unique season that saw the Nebraska Cornhuskers finish 14-2, Nebraska now heads to an even more unique tournament. For one, the tournament being held in April is a first, but the format of the tournament is much different than in years past.
Typically, a top 16-seed gets to host the first round of matches, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s tournament will look quite different. All matches will be held in Omaha and the top 16 seeds get a first-round bye.
This includes Nebraska volleyball, who earned a No. 5 seed. They’ll have the first round off and will face the winner of the Texas State and Utah Valley match. The Huskers should be able to win that match (though knock on wood because anything’s possible in sports) and that’s where the fun begins.
Nebraska volleyball won’t have an easy path to the title game.
Should Nebraska take down either Texas State or Utah Valley, they’ll then likely take on the Baylor Bears in the Sweet Sixteen. Baylor is the No. 12 seed in the tournament and finished the regular season with a 19-6 record (they played some matches in the fall due to the Big 12 not postponing fall sports). They’ll be a tough out so early on in the tournament, but Nebraska hopefully is up for the challenge.
From there, the Huskers probably will go head-to-head with another Big 12 team in the Texas Longhorns. Funny enough, Nebraska swept the Longhorns in Omaha (where the tournament is being played) in the National Championship Game in 2015. Texas got their revenge the next year by knocking Nebraska out in the semifinals. The two haven’t played since then, so that should be a fun one. Hopefully, both teams get there.
If Nebraska can win two tough matches against two tough squads from the state of Texas, they’ll advance to their fifth Final Four since 2015, but it won’t get any easier. Assuming the teams play to their seedings, Nebraska would then have its toughest task yet in the semis — No. 1 seed Wisconsin.
While Nebraska and Wisconsin didn’t end up getting to play this year due to COVID issues, the Badgers have whooped up on the Cornhuskers in recent years. They swept them in all three matches in 2019 (including in the tournament that year) and went on to lose to Stanford in the National Championship Game that season.
Despite not playing a ton of matches this season, Wisconsin is most definitely the team to beat. If Nebraska can get to that point and manages to upset the Badgers, they’ll be in a prime position to win their sixth national title.
What will help the Huskers is the fact that these matches will all be played in Omaha. Once the tournament is in the Elite Eight, fans will be allowed in the stands and that’s going to help Nebraska in the noise department. Two of their championships have come when the title game has been played in Omaha, including as recently as 2015.
Nebraska volleyball needs to take advantage of this gift, but it won’t be easy. The competition will be as tough as ever.