Nebraska seeded No. 7 in the NCAA Tournament, lands in the Louisville regional

Nebraska learned its path to another national championship during the NCAA Volleyball Tournament selection show Sunday night.

The Huskers are the No. 7 overall seed and landed in the Louisville Regional, with the possibility of facing the Cardinals if both teams advance through the first three rounds. The Cardinals are the No. 2 overall seed and top-seeded team in the region.

Being a top-eight seed, Nebraska will host the first two rounds of the tournament in Lincoln. The Huskers will take on Delaware State (24-6) in the opening round at 7 pm on Thursday and then face the winner of Miami (19-10) and Kansas (18-10) at 7 pm on Friday.

Miami and Kansas play at 4:30 pm on Thursday. The Hurricanes are the No. 7 seed in the region.

Delaware State is making its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Hornets earned their automatic qualifier after clinching the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship title. They are one of four teams to be making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

No. 1 Louisville, No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Baylor are the top-four seeds in the Louisville quadrant. If the Huskers make it past the first two rounds at home, their most likely opponent would be the Ducks.

This is the 18th straight NCAA Tournament that Nebraska will host the first two rounds in Lincoln.

“Delaware State. I don’t know a thing about them. I don’t even know their nickname,” head coach John Cook said. “…Right now that’s our focus. We’re glad to be playing and I think we’re playing Thursday-Friday. That’ll be interesting. Short week. The team’s fired up.”

Nebraska got the short end of the stick Sunday night, being the last team to know its postseason fate, although large cheers could be heard inside the Devaney Center when the Huskers learned they would avoid both the Texas and Wisconsin regionals.

Cook doesn’t remember playing the first two rounds on back-to-back nights, but it could pay dividends down the road when the Huskers have to travel if they run deeper into the tournament.

As long ago as the non-conference schedule was, it meant a lot when determining each seed for the tournament. The selection committee took a particular interest in teams’ losses and whether or not they were ranked losses. That worked in the Huskers’ favor and one of the major reasons why they were slotted No. 7 overalls.

All four losses for Nebraska came against top-10 teams at the time, with no losses coming from unranked squads.

“Katie George on there talked about iron sharpens iron. We’re prepared to play any team in the country, just based on going through the conference and playing two great teams that are playing really, really well,” Cook said. “It’s a great learning experience, even though we didn’t have success. We also had a lot we had to deal with. It’s still a great learning experience of what we’re going to have to do.”

Like their coach, Madi Kubik oath Lexi Rodriguez didn’t know too much about Deleware State, but they were given information that the Hornets are right behind the Huskers in opponent hitting efficiency at No. 2.

Both players had some fun before Nebraska was announced as the last team in the tournament, taking the time to present Secret Santa gifts to each other. It was a welcome relief for a team that is coming off a very emotionally charged weekend that saw the team captain Kenzie Knuckles tear her ACL, losing to both Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as celebrating senior night on Saturday.

“I would say this last week was a pretty emotional week,” Kubik said. “There’s a lot of different events that occurred that take an emotional, mental toll on you and then playing, obviously, two big matches, it’s a physical one as well. I think these next couple days is going to be really big for our team to take time to recover and get reset. Like Lexi said, look at these next couple matches, it’s find of a fresh start and go from there.”

It will also be a difficult week of film and adjustments for the Huskers, who have to adapt both their offensive and defensive systems after the loss of Knuckles and the questionable status of senior setter Nicklyn Hames.

After a hard kill deflected off her head Friday against Wisconsin, Hames was ruled out due to illness on Saturday against Minnesota, with Cook saying post game they hope to have her back for the tournament.

However, this team has plenty of experience going one game at a time, having made one of the most miraculous runs to the NCAA Tournament final last season as the No. 10 overall seed. Another Final Four run isn’t out of the cards, with Sunday’s selection working out to be one of the more favorable draws Nebraska could receive.

“I would say the most important thing is that it literally is one game at a time, one day at a time,” Rodriguez said of learning from last year’s deep run. “You have to focus on the matchup at hand and what you can do in that moment to help just get to the next round. I think it’s just really focusing on each and every game that’s in front of us and just leaving it on the court .”

Kubik felt similar, but she made sure to point out how impactful the recovery is in between each game.

“I think another big thing our team learned last season was how big of a deal it is to commit to recovery and staying healthy,” Kubik said. “I think our team struggled a little bit with illness towards the end of the season. I think that made it even more challenging for us as well and we were playing great teams. I think our team has really bought into taking really good care of ourselves going into these next few weeks.”

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