The Nebraska volleyball players were intrigued by the prospect of a possible match against Washington in the NCAA Tournament.
So too, probably were fans, considering the recent history between the programs, including that exchange during the 2010 NCAA Tournament, when Husker head coach John Cook and Washington coach Jim McLaughlin had to be separated following the match after Washington beat Nebraska in the regional semifinal.
In another intriguing matchup during this year’s tournament, 10th-ranked Nebraska will play No. 5 Washington in the Sweet 16 on Friday at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha.
It will be the fourth time in eight years the programs will meet in the NCAA Tournament. Washington beat Nebraska in the 2005 national title match.
“It’d be cool to play Washington because we lost to them (in the 2010 regional semifinal) and still have some unfinished business with them,” Husker co-captain Lauren Cook said.
Nebraska beat Northern Iowa on Friday in the second round. Saturday night, Washington rallied to beat No. 8 Hawaii 20-25, 25-20, 19-25, 27-25, 15-11 in Seattle.
The Huskies (25-6) finished tied for fourth in the Pac-12 Conference.
Five of Nebraska’s six losses this season came against teams that reached the Sweet 16.
Six Big Ten Conference teams reached the Sweet 16. Minnesota will play Purdue and Michigan State will play Michigan in the next round.
* Home-state edge: Nebraska will have a nice advantage over the other three teams in the Omaha regional — Washington, No. 6 Oregon and No. 16 BYU — both in getting an extra day of rest on Saturday and not needing a full day to travel to Omaha.
Cook will focus on making sure Nebraska can take advantage of its situation.
“The key is to go in there rested and confident, because we’re going to have to play two matches back-to-back, and play hard,” Cook said. “This gives us a couple days now to recover a little bit, because everybody is fatigued this time of year, and really have a great week of preparation.
“It feels good to have a break. We’ve been giving (the players) two days off the last two weeks of the Big Ten, and I think it really paid dividends for us.”
* Regional schedule will be familiar: The schedule in the Omaha regional will be familiar for Nebraska, who played matches on back-to-back nights seven times this season. The regional semifinals are Friday and the regional final on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
Last week, Nebraska spent time preparing for a possible matchup with Kansas State in the second round. Once you get to a regional, Cook said, your total focus is on your first opponent.
“That’s the great thing about the Big Ten is you got to go back-to-back and game plan for the next day fast,” Cook said. “We have our language we use. We used it (Friday). We had the Dixon rules (in reference to Minnesota middle blocker Tori Dixon) tonight, the Iowa State rules tonight. For us, it’s a really good way that allows our team to prepare quickly.”
* A sign for the future: Maryland Eastern Shore was in the tournament for the second time in school history. Last year, the Hawks lost to UCLA in the first round. This season, Nebraska swept Maryland Eastern Shore in the first round.
Maryland Eastern Shore coach Don Metil shared a message with Cook following their match Thursday.
“I told John Cook that last year we played UCLA and they ended up winning the national championships, so maybe we’ll be the good luck charm for someone next year if Nebraska is able to take the whole championship this year,” Metil said.
* Nice ending: Friday’s match at the NU Coliseum is expected to be the final official volleyball match played there. The Huskers will probably host an exhibition match at the Coliseum next spring.
Those people who have fond memories of the building from volleyball matches or state basketball tournaments can rest easy. The building will remain mostly the same, and continue to be used by Campus Recreation.
It was a special final official match, Lauren Cook said.
“Just to be able to end on a sweep, I feel like that’s Nebraska volleyball right there,” she said. “It’s a good feeling to end like that.”
* Haggerty back at the service line: Freshman middle blocker Meghan Haggerty was back serving during the Huskers’ matches this weekend.
Against Northern Iowa, Haggerty had four ace serves, along with two serving errors.
“I have been going at it in practice and really focusing and kind of putting myself in a game situation,” said Haggerty of her serving. “It really helped and transferred on the court.”