Friday night’s fans were great. Saturday night’s fans need to be even greater.
By Randy York
So this is what that wild, wacky world of college volleyball looks like on its last day of competition before the Fabulous Final Four finalizes itself … No. 2-seeded Penn State vs. No. 7 Stanford at 3 p.m. (CT), followed by No. 12 Wisconsin vs. season-long Husker nemesis Purdue at 5:30 p.m., No. 1 Texas vs. your No. 8 Nebraska Cornhuskers at 8 p.m. and the appropriate nightcap of this year’s NCAA Elite Eight finalists – No. 3 Washington hosting No. 6 USC at 10:30 p.m. to determine the fourth and final team that will be sleeping next weekend in Seattle, the home of some of Nebraska’s greatest ever volleyball moments.
Talk about ironic bracketing. Four Big Ten Conference teams, three Pac-12 Conference powers and one Big 12 Conference program continue on their respective journeys to see which one will be draped with gold medals while everyone else will be thinking about returning at the same next year. Right now, your sweeping Huskers – 3-0 winners over Fairfield, Oregon and San Diego in the NCAA’s first three rounds – like where they are, even though they will be facing defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Texas, which happens to be the most athletic team in the 64-team NCAA field … again.
What about playing those tall, talented Texas Longhorns next, John Cook? “It’s great,” said Nebraska’s head coach who’s won 90 percent of his career matches and fears absolutely no one. “I would rather play them here than in Seattle.”
Saturday Night: Perfect Time for Major Devaney Memory
What a savvy man John Cook is. He understands that Warren Buffett isn’t going to pull out his checkbook, charter three dozen airplanes and fly 8,300 Nebraska volleyball fans to Seattle to lift up the Huskers every time they need a crucial kill or vital block. So why not use every ounce of Nebraska’s strategic arsenal of engaged fans? Isn’t right now the right time to make a major memory in the renovated Devaney Center? Isn’t a match like this why you build a facility to be one of the best in the world?
If you can’t take college volleyball’s best fans with you to Seattle, why not ask them to hang on every moment, every rally and every serve in the Regional Final? Why not ask them to will your warriors to the ultimate stage of competitive excellence? To heck with asking “Can you feel it?” At Nebraska, inside the Devaney Center on a cold night, the biggest question of this Super Regional is: “Can you dig it?”
“Great semifinal match,” Cook said in his opening statement after his Huskers swept San Diego, which, like Nebraska, has taken Texas to a fifth set this season. “I thought USD is a great team … they have some warriors over there that really put up a fight and really compete … they’re hard to stop … our team was consistent and steady tonight, and we pulled out a great win.”
Inexperienced Huskers Challenged Loaded Longhorns
Sweeping Fairfield in the first round, Oregon in the second round and San Diego in the third round “is what we want to be doing this time of year,” Cook said before acknowledging why his own competitive spirit compels him to schedule an early-season non-conference game against Texas in Austin.
“They’re one of the teams that has set a standard,” Cook said, relishing the idea of scheduling a defending national champion that returns everyone it has while his own team is rebuilding basically from scratch.
“With this team, we had to find out what we have to play against these teams,” Cook said. “That was one of the reasons why I think we have a great rivalry going with Texas. (Former athletic director) Bill Byrne started it, and I think there’s still a little Texas/Nebraska thing going on. They’re a great team and obviously it’s going to take a great effort on our part.”
Cook Predicted Texas Would Switch to a 5-1 Offense
“Texas is Texas. Big athletes … they don’t try to fool you,” Cook said. “When we played them down in Texas, they were in a 6-2, and I told my staff after the game that they will be in a 5-1 next week and they have been in a 5-1 ever since. With Texas, you have to stop (Haley) Eckerman and contain the other three. They’re simple to prepare for. The key is you have to stop them.”
Perhaps the ultimate preparation is scattered among the eight schools that remain in the NCAA Tournament, including four from your own conference. “The Big Ten prepared us for this tournament,” Cook said, acknowledging that he’s had the luxury to maximize preparations for Oregon, San Diego and Texas. “Our kids know what they have to do.”
We’re assuming the fans know what they have to do, too – raise their level of support just like the players they’re cheering on. This is the last stand. If the sweeping Huskers want to be sleeping in Seattle, the fans need to do their part. Anyone who walks out of the Devaney Saturday night without a sore throat hasn’t done what this rising, resilient, young Husker team needs and almost requires. The good news is you’ll still have a clear head Sunday morning. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be so excited, you’ll make your own plane reservations to Seattle.
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