After a few years off, the Nebraska-Stanford volleyball rivalry heated back up in 2018 when the teams met in the national championship match.
Stanford won the match between two of the best programs in the sport by the smallest of margins, winning the fifth set 15-12. And there was a little more juice added to the rivalry after the match when the Stanford athletic department had to apologize after a photo from the Stanford locker room with an insensitive drawing directed toward the Huskers got out on social media.
The rivalry is guaranteed to continue, with Nebraska and Stanford scheduled to play during the regular season each of the next five years, Nebraska coach John Cook told the Journal Star.
Prior to last season, Nebraska hadn’t played Stanford since 2014. But the teams have met in some monster matches in their history, facing off in the NCAA Tournament semifinals three times, and in the championship match twice.
Stanford will come to Lincoln in 2019 for a regular-season match, with Stanford coach Kevin Hambly eager to play near Kansas City, Missouri, where two Stanford players are from.
Then starting in 2020, Nebraska and Stanford will play every year for four years as part of a new agreement between four top programs in four different conferences that will have national appeal.
The four teams are Nebraska, Stanford, Kentucky and Louisville. Each team will play two matches in one week as part of the agreement, with one match on Wednesday and one on the weekend scheduled around football. Nebraska will always play Stanford, then rotate between playing Louisville and Kentucky.
For Nebraska, the two matches will replace the VERT Challenge, a tournament the Huskers had played in for four years with Oregon, Florida and Texas.
“This is a really good (format),” Cook said. “The difference is you get to host every year. The VERT, we went four years without hosting. So if we go to Stanford, we’ll play Kentucky or Louisville here. If Stanford comes here, we’ll go to Louisville or Kentucky. So it works out great. There is going to be a great team coming in every year.”
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Kentucky (Craig Skinner) and Louisville (Dani Busboom Kelly) are coached by former Nebraska assistant coaches.
Last year was the final year for Nebraska’s contract in the VERT Challenge, and Cook was already working on something to replace it.
“Playing Stanford on a Wednesday night is going to be a great match for the country and TV, and it’s on a Wednesday so there is no football. It’s a win-win,” Cook said.
Cook wants to play Stanford to help the team improve, and for the fans.
“Our fans want to see great teams in here,” Cook said. “So we’ll probably develop a little rivalry with Stanford, you know. We’re going to have to get better. They’re pretty good, and they got great kids coming in.”
For the 2019 season, Stanford is scheduled to return eight of the nine players who played in the championship match.
The complete 2019 schedule probably won’t be announced until May, but another highlight will be Nebraska playing Creighton in Lincoln on the first night of the season.
Nebraska and Creighton didn’t play in 2017, before getting back on the schedule in 2018. Cook tries to get Creighton on the schedule each year, and has them in a premier spot for 2019.
The Huskers' 2019 schedule will also include a home match against UCLA, and the Huskers playing in a tournament in San Diego.
Nebraska and Creighton are also scheduled to play in 2020 at the CHI Health Center Omaha, the building where the NCAA Final Four will be that year.