So the Nebraska volleyball team has chosen a weekend and is going to host a tournament.
The three teams who accept the offer will get to play three matches, including one against Nebraska in front of about 8,000 fans.
In return, coach John Cook said Nebraska pays teams $15,000 to play in a tournament. That would cover a lot of your travel expenses. So it should be pretty easy to round up a few teams, right? Not exactly, Cook said.
That’s because many teams play just four weeks of nonconference matches, when they’re scheduling their own matches before the conference season begins, and it’s all a major balancing act.
Most teams want to play at least one home tournament, but a team you want to come to your place may already be booked that week. And teams may be committed to already going to a certain tournament because that team came to their place already.
And the other big factor is that teams want to know all of the teams they’ll be playing before they commit. If you know there is a good chance you’re going to lose to the host school, you want to feel like you have a chance in the other matches.
“It’s like a poker game, and everybody is trying to figure it out,” Cook said. “So some teams want to bring their teams here to play, but they want to make sure they got other teams to play that aren’t a Nebraska, Texas, Stanford.”
When Nebraska plays in the Husker Invite on Friday and Saturday, the other teams will be Central Michigan of the Mid-American Conference, New Mexico of the Mountain West and Missouri State of the Missouri Valley.
Nebraska played at New Mexico in 2016, but it’s been at least 20 years since it's played the other two teams. Central Michigan coach Mike Gawlik was recently an assistant at Michigan State and wanted his players to have what he calls the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of playing at Nebraska.
To start the scheduling process, Nebraska picks certain teams, or any team from certain conferences, to invite. If that doesn’t work, the search is expanded.
“We’ll probably send out 40 invitations, and maybe get one or two,” Cook said.
Some of the teams Cook has tried to get to Lincoln include Kansas, Kansas State, Wyoming and Northern Iowa. He’d like to play Colorado, too, and is willing to make a return trip.
Melissa Stokes is the head coach at Missouri State now, but before that, she was an assistant coach at Idaho. When she was assigned to find teams for a tournament for the first time, she thought it would be easy.
“It’s hard,” Stokes said. “You feel like sometimes you’re selling your soul because for us to get teams to come into Springfield sometimes, especially after you’ve had some success, you almost feel like you’re saying, we’re going to be young, we have eight freshmen, it’s a great time to come play us.”
Missouri State has already traveled to play Texas A&M and Kansas State this season but was able to negotiate to play those teams at home in the future. The negotiations may also include free meals or deals on hotels. Missouri State chose to come to Lincoln this week over a tournament at Marquette.
Some teams will chose a tournament because it’s close to a player’s hometown. Missouri State libero Emily Butters is from Texas, but a lot of her family lives in Nebraska.
Cook may not say in advance what day outside hitter Lexi Sun is going to play her first match of the season because any pain would delay her comeback from an injury, but it’s still trending that she’ll play this season. She’s been a bigger part of practice this week, and Cook said he hopes to play a lot of players this weekend.