These fun-loving, symbolism-seeking Huskers did it again, with several players and coaches showing up to their NCAA volleyball tournament selection show watch party Sunday evening with their dogs.
Mikaela Foecke had Cash, her mini-Australian shepherd. Kenzie Maloney and Allie Havers also had their dogs, as did coaches John Cook and Kayla Banwarth.
The Huskers were motivated this season to prove they could exceed the expectations that some people had for them after they lost a talented senior class from last season.
“This year we were kind of viewed as one of the underdogs, and a lot of girls on our team have dogs, and the coaches do, so that’s kind of a good representation of how we viewed this year, and how we’ve gone about things,” Foecke said.
And, really, having your dogs on the same court where you won the Big Ten Conference championship 24 hours earlier is just fun.
The Huskers are feeling like underdogs again after the NCAA Tournament bracket came out and the Huskers are the No. 5 overall seed. Nebraska was hoping for one of the very important top-four seeds. Those teams get the chance to host the matches in the second week of the tournament, if they win their first two matches.
And the Huskers thought they were in good position to get one of the top four seeds. The NCAA Tournament selection committee released a preliminary list of the top-10 seeds about a month ago, and the Huskers were No. 2 on that list. Nebraska hasn’t lost a match, and only two sets since then, and was the Big Ten co-champion.
But the committee gave the top seeds to No. 1 seed Penn State, No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Stanford and No. 4 Kentucky. Florida and Kentucky tied for the SEC championship, but didn’t play as tough of conference schedule as the Huskers. Stanford was the runaway winner of the Pac-12 Conference.
If Kentucky and Nebraska each win their first two matches, the Huskers will be headed to Lexington, Kentucky, for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds.
So Foecke says the Huskers still feel like underdogs, even as they take a 13-match win streak into the tournament.
“I think it kind of showed today,” Foecke said. “They put us at (No.) 5, and maybe we’d put ourselves higher, and I think we have to prove to everyone out there that we do deserve to be a top-four seed and that we’re going to make it to Kansas City (for the Final Four), and we just have to execute and play with each other, for each other.”
The Huskers’ four losses are more than any of the top-four seeds. Nebraska lost its first two matches of the season before Kelly Hunter returned from an injury, and also had a surprise loss to Northern Iowa.
But the Huskers also have nine wins against ranked teams. Cook was a little surprised the Huskers didn’t get a top-four seed.
“Anytime you win the Big Ten Conference you should be considered a top-four seed,” Cook said. “You can do the math and see how many ranked teams we’ve beat. But it is what it is, and nothing surprises me anymore with the committee and the tournament. It’s their party; we got invited to it, so we’ll go have fun.”
Hunter said the players were surprised to not have a higher seed.
“Just with the prediction, we were kind of thinking that we were going to be in the top four,” she said.
Nebraska (26-4) will play Stony Brook (18-12) in the first round Friday at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Sports Center. Stony Brook is in the tournament for the first time.
Cook said if the Huskers advance and have to hit the road for the second week, they’ll try to use it to their advantage. Many of the Huskers were on the team when Nebraska played in the Lexington Regional in 2015.
And sometimes, Cook said, how the bracket sets up is more important than the seed, and he thinks the Huskers got a good draw. The other seeded teams in the Huskers’ part of the bracket are No. 4 Kentucky, No. 12 Baylor and No. 13 BYU.
“If we win and we’re fortunate enough to get to the Final Four, we don’t have to see Texas before then, we don’t have to see Stanford before then, and Florida before then. Those guys present some tough matchups for us, and then Penn State,” Cook said. “We don’t have to beat one of those teams to get to the Final Four. Now we got to beat a lot of other good teams.”
As for the dogs, Cook said this is a dog-crazy team. The coaches occasionally bring theirs to the gym for the players to enjoy.
“It fits well with us, and they wanted to bring them and have a dog party tonight,” Cook said.
* Creighton earned its highest seed in program history at No. 9, and will host Coastal Carolina in the first round in Omaha.
* Two Nebraska assistant coaches from last season who are now head coaches both got their teams in the tournament. Louisville, coached by Dani Busboom Kelly, will play Northern Iowa in the first round in Minneapolis. Illinois, coached by Chris Tamas, will play Hawaii in Seattle. Illinois is one of eight Big Ten teams to be selected.
NCAA Volleyball Tournament
At the Devaney Sports Center
FRIDAY’S FIRST ROUND
Florida State (18-10) vs. Washington State (17-15), 4:30 p.m.
Stony Brook (18-12) at Nebraska (26-4), 7 p.m.
SATURDAY'S SECOND ROUND
First-round winners, 7 p.m.
Standing-room only all-session tickets remain for the matches in Lincoln. Those can be purchased through www.huskers.com/tickets, or by calling 800-8-BIGRED.