Finals week is a stressful time in nearly every student’s life, but to have to prepare for a major NCAA Tournament semifinal during that same week? That’s a whole other level. “It’s hard to get anything done when these guys have finals,” Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook said. The team has had a hectic week these past several days. Last week, Nebraska departed for Minnesota, sweeping both Oregon and Kentucky in the regional semifinal and regional final in Minneapolis, before returning to Lincoln to take their finals on Monday and Tuesday. “It’s a great week to have a final four – during finals week,” Cook said, using his signature dry wit.
It isn’t as if Nebraska is new to this type of schedule. The Huskers have been in this position many times the past number of years – four times, in fact. The Huskers will be making their fourth straight NCAA Tournament final four appearance. “It’s an epic achievement,” Cook said. “Not very many teams can do it or have done it.” A pair of Huskers, Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney, have been with the team for each of those final four runs.
With that being the case, Nebraska’s young team will be relying heavily on the senior duo of Foecke and Maloney. “Eight of us haven’t been in this situation before,” sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said. “I think them (Foekce and Maloney) being there and having that record gives us a lot of confidence. They really make this team believe, and that’s why I think our team has been so successful in the postseason so far.”
On Thursday, Nebraska will take on the last team to beat them – the Illinois Illini. The Huskers are 1-1 against the Illini this season. A win would break the series tie, and send Nebraska to their second straight national championship match. “I think we’re really excited,” middle blocker Lauren Stivrens said. “It’s kind of a redemption game for us.”
Redemption will serve as one motivator for the Huskers, but the fact that the Nebraska has already played Illinois twice in 2018 will be advantageous for the team on Thursday, according to Cook. “It’s a little easier,” Cook said. “Our players know their players. There’s a familiarity. We’ve played them. We know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Nebraska has already taken down their first test of the week – getting past their finals unscathed. Next up, will be to do nothing less than to defend their national championship title.
(Photo by Kenny Larabee)