LINCOLN — In a season of uncertainty, one more item has been determined for the Nebraska volleyball team.
The Huskers (14-2) now know their path for the postseason as they earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. However, they don’t know their first-round opponent, as they will play either Texas State (30-8, 15-1 Sun Belt) or first-timer Utah Valley (14-5, 12-4 WAC) at 2:30 p.m. on April 15.
In the new format this year, each of the top 16 seeds received a bye in the reduced 48-team field. Wisconsin (15-0) earned the top overall seed, followed by Kentucky (19-1), Minnesota (15-2) and Texas (23-1).
“I don't worry too much about our seeds right now,” NU coach John Cook said. “What I'm worried about is we got to play a team that's going to play one day in front of us. We're going to go three weeks now without having played a match. So that's my biggest concern is how do I get our team ready to be able to play a match and play at a high level.”
In another break of tradition, the Huskers chose not to gather together at the Devaney Center. Instead, they watched at home, as they took the past week off with their matches against Penn State canceled for precautionary measures.
The bracket features just 18 at-large berths with five of those coming from the Big Ten. All six Big Ten teams earned national seeds including three of the top five overall as well as No. 7 Purdue, No. 9 Ohio State and No. 13 Penn State.
“I think the fact that six of the Big Ten teams were seeded is pretty cool,” Cook said. “That doesn't surprise me. I think it's well deserved and it shows you how tough our conference is. And, Illinois (7-11) is probably good enough to be in the tournament.”
T.J. Meager, NCAA women’s volleyball committee chair, said the biggest challenge for seeding and selecting the at-large teams was comparing teams from different leagues when many didn’t play nonconference matches. He said the selection committee relied on regional advisory committees made up of coaches to provide perspective on how everyone stacked up.
“We could do a lot of visual evaluation which I think was key in forming opinions on how teams were playing,” Meager said during an interview on ESPNU. “But honestly for the experts and the coaches, we looked at them very closely and asked them to really do their best with helping us in this process.”
Should the seeds stay true to form, Nebraska’s path to a sixth national championship would include matches against No. 12 Baylor, No. 4 Texas, No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 2 Kentucky.
In another first, Stanford will not be playing in the postseason. The defending champions had made every iteration of the tournament since 1981 but finished the year 2-8. Penn State is now the only team to qualify for all 40 editions. Nebraska did not participate in the first tourney but has played in every one since.
The tournament kicks off on April 14 with the first-round matches between unseeded teams. The 32 participating schools will arrive three days before their matches.
For the first three rounds, the matches will be played on four courts set up in the convention center in front of family members only. All of these matches will be shown on ESPN3, which can be watched online or through the ESPN app.
Starting with the regional finals, matches will move to the 18,000-seat arena with a 25% capacity. The first two matches will be played in a morning session on April 19 starting at 11, with the second two match-session starting at 5:30 p.m.
“We're just so excited to be able to play in Omaha and have a lot of those Husker fans there hopefully,” Lexi Sun said in an interview on the selection show.
The national semifinals will be Thursday, April 22, with the title match two days later, both shown on ESPN2.
“I think it's a big deal, even though it won't be 18,000,” Cook said. “We've talked about this for a year and a half now that there is always a great opportunity when the tournament's in Omaha for us.”