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Nebraska volleyball vs. Illinois, 12.13

Nebraska’s Mikaela Foecke (2) goes for a kill against Illinois’ Ashlyn Fleming (12) as Huskers teammates Nicklin Hames (left) and Kenzie Maloney (11) look on in the first set on Thursday during the NCAA Final Four at Target Center in Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS — You don’t play four seasons of volleyball at Nebraska, make it to four Final Fours and eat at those All-American banquets each year without learning a little bit about the history of the sport.

And so as Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney attempt to rewrite the Husker record book by winning the third national title in their careers, it’s not lost on Nebraska’s senior co-captains that standing in their way is Stanford.

The Cardinal has won more NCAA Tournament matches (124), reached more Final Fours (22) and played for more national championships (16) than any volleyball program in the nation. Nebraska ranks second in wins (113), second in Final Fours (16) and third in championship matches (nine).

But as the Huskers have chased national titles the past three seasons, Stanford and Nebraska haven’t squared off. In fact, the last meeting between the programs was an August regular-season match in 2014.

“It’s our first chance to play against them,” Maloney said Thursday night, moments after Nebraska completed its comeback to eliminate Illinois and set up Saturday’s 8 p.m. showdown with the top-ranked Cardinal at the Target Center.

A year ago, many expected Nebraska and Stanford to clash in the final in Kansas City after the Huskers outlasted Penn State in their semifinal. But Florida took out Stanford in the late match, thus extending the string of years where Nebraska and Stanford hadn’t met in the postseason to 11.

The teams last squared off in an NCAA Tournament match in 2006, when a Nebraska team with Sarah Pavan and Jordan Larson beat Stanford and Foluke Akinradewo and Kristin Richards for the title. Since that night in Omaha, the Huskers have played 52 NCAA tournament matches against 36 other teams.

They’ve played BYU, Kentucky, UNI and Wichita State twice in bracket play. Faced Penn State and Oregon three times. Had four showdowns with Texas. And six, yes six, postseason matches with Washington. But during that stretch, Nebraska never played Stanford with its season on the line.

“Both programs have high expectations,” said John Cook, only the third head coach in Nebraska history. Kevin Hambly, who is in his second year at Stanford, seeks to join coaching legends Don Shaw and John Dunning as championship coaches with the Cardinal.

Though the programs haven’t played of late, it’s not like they’re unfamiliar. Cook said the two powerhouses often square off in recruiting battles. Nebraska hosted Kansas City area high school teammates Jenna Gray and Audriana Fitzmorris on official visits, he said, and was among the first schools to offer a scholarship to libero Morgan Hentz, who hails from Kentucky.

All three players, now juniors, are All-Americans at Stanford. Along with national player of the year Kathryn Plummer. And senior middle blocker Tami Alade.

Though familiar faces for Maloney, she said Friday there’s still plenty to learn about the Cardinal before Saturday’s match.

“Just because we've never played Stanford, we're going to have to do a little bit extra scouting,” she said. “Obviously Stanford is a great program. It will be a really great match.”

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City editor

City editor for the Lincoln Journal Star.

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