Match 36: Texas vs. Nebraska, 12.19.2015

Nebraska head coach John Cook kisses the national championship trophy after the Huskers defeated Texas 3-0 in the 2015 national final in Omaha.

Journal Star file photo

Reaching new heights in 1995

Just like the Huskers did this year, the 1995 Nebraska volleyball team made its goal known before the season even began.

The media guide for the 1995 season had this headline on its cover: "One Goal … One Focus … One Champion."

And, as happened this season, the Huskers backed up their bravado, winning the 1995 title with a four-set triumph against Texas in Amherst, Massachusetts. NU became the first team from the Midwest to win the national title.

"At some point in my career, I just realized they can't do it if you don't believe it — if they don't sense that you believe it," coach Terry Pettit said. "You have to be willing to take risks."

The Huskers were sparked that season by setter Christy Johnson, who helped Nebraska to a 63-2 record in her final two seasons while never losing a road match.

Allison Weston shared national player of the year honors in 1995, but it was junior outside hitter Kate Crnich who was the star of the NCAA championship match.

The Longhorns' block took away the middle, opening the door for Crnich, who recorded 25 kills — 12 more than her previous high — in NU's 11-15, 15-2, 15-7, 16-14 victory.

"Kate played out of her mind," Weston said. "She was on fire. I'm glad she chose this game to be the best of her career."

The Huskers finished 32-1 that year, with 31 straight victories.

Huskers make perfect run in Cook's first year

John Cook didn't expect to win the national championship in 2000, his first year as Husker head coach.

He decided before the season to redshirt NU's top player, Nancy Metcalf, who had spent months working with the U.S. National Team and was worn down. Cook also elected to go with unproven Greichaly Cepero as the team's setter.

Nobody thought Nebraska could go through the season undefeated and, in doing so, give NU its second national championship.

"Because we redshirted Nancy, we were thinking of it as an investment year," Cook said. "Get Greicha a year of setting, and then we'd go for it in 2001."

His plan backfired, but in a good way.

The Huskers nearly were derailed by South Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Laura Pilakowski, just 10 days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, had 15 kills as the Huskers escaped the Gamecocks 15-11, 9-15, 13-15, 15-12, 15-13 at the NU Coliseum.

In the NCAA semifinals in Richmond, Virginia, Nebraska faced Hawaii, the team Cook thought was the best in the country. The Huskers prevailed 15-3, 15-12, 9-15, 15-10, setting up a battle against Cook's old team, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Cook had left Wisconsin two years before, but many of the Badgers were players he'd recruited. Wisconsin was playing in its first Final Four and nearly knocked off the unbeaten Huskers. Nebraska scored the last nine points of the fourth set and the first four in the fifth set to earn a 15-9, 9-15, 7-15, 15-2, 15-9 victory.

Conquering in Omaha I

Nebraska's 2006 volleyball team faced pressure that could have destroyed any other team. The NCAA Final Four was being held in Omaha and everybody expected the Huskers to be there.

Just like he would do in 2016, Cook switched around his lineup for the 2006 season and it paid off.

The Husker coach asked Dani Busboom to move to libero for her senior season. Nobody could have foreseen the results.

Cook also benefited from the emergence of Dani Mancuso, who stepped in when 2005 national player of the year Christina Houghtelling was forced to redshirt because of shoulder surgery.

The two Nebraska natives found their niche on a team that included Sarah Pavan and Jordan Larson, considered the best players in Husker history.

The top-ranked Huskers nearly didn't make it to Omaha. They trailed Minnesota two sets to none in the Gainesville (Florida) Regional final before rallying for a 25-30, 22-30, 30-20, 30-25, 15-9 victory.

NU came into the NCAA semifinals 31-1 and had to get past No. 4 UCLA to have a chance at the school's third national title. Larson struggled against the Bruins, but her teammates stepped up, and Nebraska won 23-30, 30-28, 30-23, 30-28 at Qwest Center Omaha. 

In the final against No. 2 Stanford, Nebraska got contributions from five homegrown players — Busboom, Mancuso, Larson, Rachel Schwartz and Amanda Gates. But it was Pavan — who had said she would not let the Huskers lose — who didn't let them, recording 22 kills and 13 digs in NU's 27-30, 30-26, 30-28, 30-27 victory. 

Conquering in Omaha II

John Cook made some lineup adjustments midway through the season, and the Huskers never looked back.

They looked to be a team on a mission en route to winning a fourth national championship, and second in Omaha. It was Kelsey Fien's kill against Texas that kicked off a celebration with 17,561 fans.

Nebraska defeated Longhorns 25-23, 25-23, 25-21. NU won by being great at the end of three pressure-packed sets. The Huskers won the first two sets each by two points. Nebraska coach John Cook gave the fans the assist for that.

No. 5 Nebraska went all-in on getting to the hometown Final Four, and didn’t stop once it got here, taking down Kansas in the national semifinals, then third-ranked Texas on the final day of the season.

This was a Texas team with Final Four experience and five All-Americans. But Nebraska had some stars, too, led by Kadie and Amber Rolfzen and Justine Wong-Orantes.

A freshman by the name of Mikaela Foecke emerged in a big way. She had 19 kills in the national final and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Nebraska won its final 16 matches of the season. NU lost back-to-back matches to Minnesota and Wisconsin in October, but never lost again.

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