The end of the Big Ten season for the Nebraska volleyball team won’t occur on the court at the Devaney Sports Center.
Instead, finality for this portion of the season came in the form of a Tuesday morning announcement that Nebraska’s matches this week against Penn State have been canceled due to COVID-19 cases with the Nittany Lions' program. The No. 4-ranked Huskers were scheduled to play No. 11 Penn State on Thursday and Friday.
Nebraska doesn’t plan to add a replacement match this week or host an event for the volleyball program that will be open to the public.
The news wasn’t a big surprise after Penn State canceled its matches last week against Wisconsin due to multiple COVID-19 cases on its team, but Nebraska coach John Cook had held out hope the matches would be played if Penn State didn’t add any more COVID cases.
Cook was told the matches were off on Tuesday morning.
“This doesn’t happen out of the blue,” Cook said. “It’s been talked about on the weekend because Penn State has some positives, so we’ve been talking all weekend, the administrators and the (athletic) trainers have been talking. The doctors talked today and shut it down.”
Cook told the team the news in a group message. The Huskers will practice as scheduled on Tuesday afternoon.
“They’ll be bummed,” Cook said. “But I do know that they’ve been concerned because they’re worried if Penn State is contagious and we play. This is what happened with Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State. You got one team that’s contagious and infects other teams. They were worried about how much risk we have, and we don’t want to have an outbreak two weeks out from the (NCAA) Tournament.”
But it’s still a disappointment for many people because Nebraska was set to have fans at a home match for the first time this season after the Big Ten recently allowed local health officials and each athletic department to make decisions about spectators. Nebraska was set to welcome about 2,400 spectators for each match.
And Penn State is Nebraska’s biggest conference rival, with the matches often being some of the best of each season. Each of the past four matches in the series has gone five sets, with Nebraska having a 3-1 record in those matches.
This is the final week of the regular season with no time for the matches to be rescheduled.
The Huskers will finish the regular season at 14-2. Nebraska is in second place in the Big Ten standings with an 87.5% winning percentage. Wisconsin leads the standings (11-0). The Badgers are scheduled to play Michigan twice this week, and would have to lose both matches for the Huskers to win the Big Ten title.
Nebraska had three of the 11 scheduled series canceled — against Northwestern (Jan. 29-30), Wisconsin (Feb. 26-27) and Penn State. None of the matches were rescheduled, and each came as a result of COVID-19 cases for the opponent.
Nebraska will now wait for the NCAA Tournament bracket to be announced on Sunday. Nebraska is fourth in the coaches’ poll and should earn one of the top-six seeds. The entire tournament will be played in Omaha from April 14-24.
Nebraska played seven home matches, with the spectators for each being limited to a few hundred family and friends for both teams.
With only about 2,000 tickets available to the public for this week's matches, Cook said he felt bad for all of the difficult decisions that were made by the Nebraska ticket office and families about who would get to attend the matches.
“I’m just counting the days until we can play in front of 8,000 again, because that’s what Devaney is meant for,” Cook said. “I had no idea how much I would miss that. I can’t image how much the players miss it.”