After a 28-1 regular season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers have earned the overall No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
As such, the Huskers didn’t have to wait long to learn their postseason path on Sunday during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show, airing on ESPN for the first time. Nebraska will face Long Island University in the first round, set for Friday with a 7 p.m. start time at the Devaney Center.
“I think we’re really excited about it,” Ally Batenhorst said. “We’ve worked really, really hard this season and I think we’ve got a good lineup and we’re ready for it and we’ve prepared well … I think in the past previous years, like my freshman year, I think we ranked 10th and we were kind of waiting the whole time to see. It was just kind of nice to just immediately know exactly where we stand and just have that moving forward.”
The LIU Sharks are 13-18 overall but beat top seeds Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson in four sets apiece in the Northeast Conference Tournament to earn the league’s auto-bid.
No. 8 seed Missouri and Delaware will also travel to Lincoln for the first and second rounds.
The other No. 1 seeds are, in order, Stanford, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh. That means the Huskers wouldn’t see the Badgers or Cardinal again until the championship match.
Nebraska could see No. 4 Florida or No. 5 Georgia Tech in the third round if seeds hold. Seeded teams in the other half of Nebraska’s region include No. 2 Kentucky, No. 3 Arkansas, No. 6 Florida State and No. 7 James Madison.
This is Nebraska’s first chance to host a regional since 2016. Cook said not having to worry about any kind of travel considerations until the Final Four is a big advantage, in addition to the boost the players get from sleeping in their own beds and playing in front of their fans.
“It’s huge,” Batenhorst said. “Lexi and I were talking about that, we’ve never done that before. Having the home court advantage is really amazing, especially here in Nebraska we’re going to have that support for sure. It’s much nicer to have the momentum from the crowd here and just have that support during our games, especially when they’re such big matches like the regional finals and everything. So yeah, definitely excited about that one.”
𝐔𝐩𝐩𝐞𝐫 𝐋𝐞𝐟𝐭 𝐑𝐞𝐠𝐢𝐨𝐧
— NCAA Women's Volleyball (@NCAAVolleyball) November 26, 2023
Louisville is the 2 seed in Pittsburgh’s region while Creighton is the 3 seed. The Bluejays will host the first and second rounds, facing Colgate on Friday at 6:30 p.m. No. 6 seed Utah State and Minnesota will also travel to Omaha for the first two rounds.
Omaha also qualified for the tournament for the first time in school history and will travel to 4 seed Kansas for the first round.
“I remember early in my coaching career here, we wouldn’t play UNO just because the RPI, and same with Creighton,” Cook said. “Then we started playing Creighton, and when UNO opened Baxter Arena we went up there and played. So here we’ve got three schools now in the NCAA Tournament. I think this is huge for the state of Nebraska, huge for those three programs. All three Division I programs are in the NCAA Tournament, so congrats to those guys. Nebraskans have a lot to be proud of.
“We are the volleyball state, and then you’ve got Wayne State who’s ranked No. 1 still in Division II and I know there’s a bunch of other teams, NAIA, Kearney that are all doing really well. So I’m very proud of the volleyball in the state.”
The Huskers are one of five Big Ten teams in the field as No. 3 Purdue, No. 5 Penn State, and unseeded Minnesota also qualified alongside Wisconsin as at-large teams. The SEC led all conferences with eight bids while the Big 12 landed seven teams in the field. The Pac-12 and ACC also have five tournament teams.
Cook believes his team is well prepared for what the tournament will bring after navigating the regular season with just one loss, defeating the other two top-three seeds and securing the Big Ten title outright.
“Obviously, we played a tough schedule,” Cook said. “We played in big matches, we played in sold-out arenas, so I just think our players now, I think they thrive under these matches, and they’re used to it, especially our younger players. So we’ve been battle tested, we know what it’s going to take, we know how to win. We can win a lot of different ways, which we’ve had to do this year and we can win with a lot of different players getting hot or just having a really great balanced attack. Our one staple is always defense and I’m glad to see we’re still second or third in the nation in defense. That’s saying something for some of the teams we’re playing.”
Nebraska’s journey back to the Final Four — located in Tampa, Florida, this year — begins on Friday.