LINCOLN — All season, the motto for the Nebraska volleyball team has been “Unfinished Business.” And when the NCAA tournament brackets were unveiled Sunday, the selection committee gave the Huskers a chance to cross a couple of items off their to-do list.
As for Creighton, the Bluejays have the chance to add to a record-breaking list of season accomplishments.
Nebraska (23-6), the No. 4 overall seed and the top seed in the Omaha Regional, will play Maryland-Eastern Shore (28-5) in a first-round match at 7 p.m. Thursday at NU Coliseum.
Creighton (28-3), playing in the West Lafayette, Ind., Regional, will open against Marquette (27-6) at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Minneapolis, Minn.
With a win, the Huskers could face a second-round meeting with Kansas State, the team that ended their season in a second-round upset last year in Lincoln. The Wildcats play Northern Iowa in the first round Thursday at 4:30 p.m.
If Nebraska advances to regional play in Omaha, it could be looking at a Sweet 16 match with Washington. The Huskies knocked off NU in a 2010 regional semifinal in Seattle, and they will likely have to get by Hawaii in an anticipated second-round meeting to reach Omaha.
“Our reaction is just taking it one game at a time and one team at a time,” NU senior outside hitter Hannah Werth said. “I think that being blessed to have K-State and Washington both in the same bracket, that's amazing. Like we were saying upstairs, it's like getting double jeopardy. We've lost to those teams the last two years, so it gives us a great opportunity to redeem ourselves.”
This weekend marks the final matches at the Coliseum before the Huskers move into the Devaney Center next fall. The last match in the Coliseum could be a chance to avenge last year's stunning five-set loss to Kansas State.
“How perfect is that?” senior Paige Hubl said. “That is the perfect way to start off, making it there.”
Nebraska, which enters the NCAA tournament on a three-match winning streak, gets a boost from knowing that the team would not have to leave the state to advance to the program's first Final Four since 2008.
That's the final piece of unfinished business for this year's senior class, which has seen three straight seasons end short of college volleyball's biggest stage. But, the selection committee didn't make it an easy road for the Huskers despite a home-court advantage in the Coliseum and CenturyLink Center.
To get to the Final Four in Louisville, Ky., Nebraska may have to face Oregon (25-4), the No. 5 overall seed, in a regional final. The Ducks finished second in the rugged Pac-12, the highest finish in school history, and own wins against top 16 seeds Washington, UCLA and USC.
No. 12 overall seed BYU (26-3) is on Oregon's side of the bracket. The Cougars, co-champions of the West Coast Conference, opened the season with 15 straight wins.
Nebraska earned the No. 4 overall seed mostly from its strong RPI. The Huskers were fourth in last week's RPI and own wins against UCLA and Penn State, both ranked No. 1 when they fell in Lincoln.
“I feel really good about our effort during the season to be a top four seed,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I don't know how many years we've done that, but it's a great compliment to our team and how hard they've worked to be a top four seed. That's really a reflection of the body of work we've done over the last 2 1⁄2 months.”
The Nittany Lions were given the tournament's top overall seed and will play in the West Lafayette Regional on the opposite side of the bracket as Creighton.
The Bluejays continue their best season in school history with a familiar opponent in Marquette.
Creighton and Marquette split regular-season meetings in 2010 and '11, and Bluejay coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth has known Marquette coach Bond Shymansky since her earliest days in coaching.
Booth said Shymanksy hired her as an assistant in 1998 when he was at Iowa City High School, but left to become an assistant at Iowa State before the season started.
Creighton has won a school-record 16 matches in a row going into the tournament. If the Bluejays get past Marquette, they could face host Minnesota in a rematch of a 2010 second-round match won by the Gophers in straight sets.
“We're a physical team. We've got good leadership,” Booth said. “I think overall team chemistry is incredible. Every single player on this team is on board and has bought into their role.”
The Big Ten tied the Pac-12 for most tournament bids with seven. Nebraska, Penn State and Minnesota will host first- and second-round matches. Michigan State, Purdue, Ohio State and Michigan also are in the field.
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