Hurrdat Sports

↓ The Local Coverage You Need ↓

Hail Varsity
Mavericks All Access
Bluejay Breakdown
NEB Preps
NEB Pros

Husker Volleyball Ready to Host First Weekend of NCAA Tournament

by Nov 30, 2023Nebraska Volleyball

Nebraska Cornhusker had a record attendance of 9,198 against the Wisconsin Badgers during a college volleyball match on Saturday, October 21, 2023, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Lexi Rodriguez said this week has gone by very slowly, but the wait is almost over as the NCAA Tournament begins for the Huskers on Friday night.

The 28-1 overall record, 19-1 Big Ten record and 17-0 home record all go out the window as the Huskers host Long Island in the first round.

“I think it’s really cool just because everyone gets a clean slate,” Rodriguez said. “It’s 0-0. It doesn’t matter if you won your conference, it doesn’t matter what your record is, everyone gets a fair shot to make it to a national championship. The competitiveness goes up, the games get a lot more fun and a lot more pressure-filled, but it’s what we train so hard for and what we work for every day. So I think I’m just really excited to kind of get to see that from our team because I know that we’ll get after it in the tournament.”

The Huskers’ four freshmen starters will all be making their postseason debut on Friday night, but the veterans have plenty of experience for them to fall back on.

“It’s new ground and we’re trying to go through it with as much grace as we can, but there’s obviously going to be some things that we’re new to and so we’re leaning on the upperclassmen,” Bergen Reilly said. “We’re having them help us, but we’ve also kind of been preparing for this since January. So we’re kind of just taking it one game at a time. We know that these are technically bigger games, but in our eyes every game is a big game.”

Despite the youth filling his roster, Cook said he doesn’t anticipate nerves being a problem for this squad as the Huskers set out on their journey back to the Final Four.

“I think these guys are fired up to compete and play,” Cook said. “I think they love these moments and all these matches are huge now. Look at all the attention going on today. What makes it exciting for them is these are teams we’re not used to playing in the Big Ten, so there’s an excitement and anticipation to that. And then our crowd’s going to be wired because it’s the NCAA Tournament. So these are these are fun matches that I think, in a way, is a celebration of the year, but we know every point is going to matter and I think these guys thrive on that.”

Cook highlighted serving, passing and competing as the keys to making a deep run, but the Huskers will also have to be ready to adjust on the fly as they could see many different types of teams as they progress through the tournament.

“This time of year is about trying to play our best volleyball and the game is going to challenge us,” Cook said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. Long Island is going to challenge us in a different way than our next match will, and the next one, so we’ve just got to be prepared to work through those things in how they do challenge us, whether it’s nerves, whether there’s something they’re doing that we haven’t seen before. These teams are all outside the Big Ten.”

Long Island was certainly a long shot to make it to this point. The Sharks were 11-18 heading into the Northeast Conference Tournament before knocking off the top two seeds to earn the league’s auto-bid.

“It’s the NCAA tournament,” Cook said. “I just heard walking in here, Western Michigan just knocked off Auburn 3-0. On paper that’s a big upset. When I saw the bracket, I’m like ‘There are going to be a lot of great matches starting on the first day.’ Long Island will be super fired up because they probably thought they’d never be in this moment and now they get to play Nebraska at Nebraska in front of 8,000 people. That’s sports, man. Basketball calls it March Madness; I don’t know what we call it in volleyball, but it’s becoming more and more like that. So it’s pretty cool.”

Camelia Mendez, a 5-foot-11 junior, leads the Long Island attack at 3.08 kills per set on .149 hitting. Amaris Smith, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, isn’t far behind at 2.71 kills per set on .178 hitting. Junior libero Alasha Colon, the NEC Defensive Player of the Year, is 10th in the country at 5.45 digs per set. Rumur Rouille, a 6-foot-4 junior middle, is leading the team with 1.21 per set to go with 1.29 kills per set on .243 hitting offensively.

“They’re a very good serving team; that’s the first thing that we noticed,” Cook said. “So our passers are going to have to do a good job. The other thing they’re going to do is they’re a little slower tempo than what we’re used to. So we worked on that today, preparing our players, because most teams we play go really fast in the Big Ten. This is going to be a little bit slower, so it’s going to mess with our block timing a little bit and so on.”

Cook said Long Island isn’t as physical as most of the teams the Huskers have played over the past 10 weeks in the Big Ten — referring to size and athleticism — and Nebraska will have to adjust to a different style of play on Friday. Adapting has been a strength for this team all season; however. A team doesn’t go 28-1 while being one-dimensional.

“We’ve won it with defense, we’ve won it with offense, we’ve won it with out-serving and passing, we’ve won it with winning super long rallies,” Cook said. “I’d say this year we’ve won most of the long rallies. And then just winning it by being gutsy and gritty and finding a way to win a joust at the net, just whatever it takes. It’s just willpower. So those are all the different ways I think we’ve won matches this year.”

One thing that won’t require an adjustment is playing at the Devaney Center. As the top overall seed in the Tournament, Nebraska will host the first four rounds of the tournament, which Rodriguez said provides a sense of comfort for the Huskers.

“We know that we’re at home, we know the surroundings, the environment, and then also just having our crowd be there for us,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t realize how much of an impact it has until you don’t have it and you’re in these away gyms with away crowds and you kind of have to build your own energy. So I think that’ll be super beneficial for us just because we’ve played a lot of games here this year and we’ve we haven’t lost at home this year. So I think it’ll be a huge advantage for us to just have that home crowd.”

Cook said Lindsay Krause, the starting outside hitter who has missed the last 12 matches with an ankle injury, did participate in practice on Thursday, but don’t expect to see her in the matches this weekend.

“She’s not ready to play yet, but she may go through warm-ups tomorrow; that could be a pretty cool thing,” Cook said. “She’s getting closer.”

The first match of the day at the Devaney Center on Thursday will be No. 8 seed Missouri against Delaware with a 4:30 p.m. Central start time. Nebraska will take on LIU at least half an hour after the conclusion of that match, no early than 7 p.m. The winners will advance to the second round on Saturday, set to start at 7 p.m. ESPN+ will stream all three matches for subscribers.

You May Also Like

Taylor Landfair Excited to Join Competitive Husker Gym

Taylor Landfair Excited to Join Competitive Husker Gym

Nebraska volleyball made a big splash in the transfer portal earlier this month when former Minnesota outside hitter and 2022 Big Ten Player of the Year Taylor Landfair announced her commitment to the Huskers. Landfair recently joined Hurrdat Sports’ Ana Bellinghausen...

Huskers Feature Prominently in Winter Transfer Portal Movement

Huskers Feature Prominently in Winter Transfer Portal Movement

The first postseason transfer portal window for Division I volleyball closed on Monday, Jan. 1, and it’s been a busy time for the Cornhuskers. All 14 players on the 2023 roster were eligible to return in 2024, but a 100% retention rate is almost unheard of in college...