In five days, the Nebraska volleyball team will enter the volleyball bubble in Omaha.
All 48 teams in the NCAA Tournament this season are headed to Omaha for all six rounds, similar to how the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament were staged.
Nebraska's first match in the tournament is next Thursday, the second day of the event.
Having the whole tournament at one site allows for the same COVID-19 protocols and means the teams that play in the Final Four will have been in one city for the tournament instead of three.
This bubble won’t be as locked down as the NBA bubble was in Florida last summer, but teams will still have restrictions from both the NCAA and their schools.
Nebraska will stay at the Marriott, which is only a few blocks from the CHI Health Center Omaha, where all of the practices and matches will be played in both the massive convention center and the main arena.
Each winter, hundreds of club volleyball teams come to Omaha and play in tournaments at the convention center, moving in colorful packs together from their hotels to the arena.
Now some of the top college volleyball teams in the country will be walking those same steps for about two weeks. If the weather is nice, the Nebraska team may walk to matches, Nebraska coach John Cook said.
“It’s exactly like a club tournament,” Cook said.
Nebraska will practice in Lincoln for the final time on Monday, and then make the short trip to Omaha.
What does Cook expect the bubble to be like?
“We’re basically going to be up there for two days before we can do anything,” Cook said. “So we go in Monday night and I think our first practice is Wednesday, but you got to test out of it. So we’re going to pretty much be isolated at the hotel for 48 hours.”
The teams will be able to spend time outside, and should have a meeting room at the hotel.
“We just don’t want to sit in the hotel all day. I know what results that brings,” Cook said. “We’re trying to be creative on that.”
One change for Nebraska is that the NCAA limits the traveling party for each team to 27 people, including players, coaches and support staff. Nebraska has 17 players, including the three freshmen who aren't eligible to play. The travel party also has to include one of Nebraska’s administrators, leaving nine spots for the coaches and support staff.
That means Nebraska will travel without a few people who went on previous road trips this season such as all of the graduate managers who assist in practice and during matches and the team’s sports psychologist, Brett Haskell. Also off the list is Nick Burkhardt, who makes many of the videos posted on social media that give fans a behind-the-scenes look at the program.
“We can’t take everybody we normally take, so there is going to be some adjustments there,” Cook said.
Playing matches in a wide-open convention center will also be an adjustment the teams will have to make as the NCAA stages a championship during a pandemic season, and teams may not know exactly what that looks like until they arrive.
Because the matches will be played in a convention center teams won’t have a typical locker room setup in the three rounds played before the tournament moves down the hallway to the arena, but teams will have a changing area.
Normally it’s in the locker room where teams change into their jerseys after warmups, and the spot where coaches use a whiteboard to discuss strategy during the intermission.
The NCAA released a statement on Thursday evening that said, “contrary to reports, players were never expected to change clothes on the bench — each team will have a secure changing area on site.”