At the beginning of this season, the Husker women's volleyball team set a little goal for themselves: make it to Omaha. In late October, when the team spent an entire weekend losing to Minnesota and Wisconsin in Lincoln, this goal seemed doubtful to many fans. But not to the team. They responded from that setback to rip through the rest of their conference schedule and five rounds of post-season play, a 15-match win streak. Now, they've not only made it to Omaha, they've made it to the final night in Omaha, and Nebraska's fourth all-time National Championship is tantalizingly in reach.
First, they have to beat Texas. You guys have heard of Texas, right? You wouldn't think that a farmer's natural enemy would be a type of livestock, but if you think that, you've never met a Longhorn. Nebraska fans, after letting Texas into our conference and subsequently watching them blow said conference up, dislike Texas more than probably any other school in the country. Not only is there the whole "You hijacked our conference and ruined it" thing, their teams have an unsavory knack for crushing the dreams of Husker teams. The football history of this is long and storied, perhaps most infamously in The One Second That Wasn't in the 2009 CCG.
But this is a story about volleyball, and the Nebraska-Texas roots run even deeper in this sport. Nebraska coach John Cook downplays any bad blood between the schools:
"I think volleyball likes rivalries, but it's not as personal like football can be. We like to think that we have a rivalry with Penn State, with Texas, with Stanford, with Washington. We've played those teams a lot in the tournament and during the regular season. Those are the teams competing for national championships."
In this, he's certainly correct. But from a fanbase perspective, there is no team that Husker fans would rather see fall while the Huskers win it all. Both programs are undisputed blue bloods of the sport, with Texas being the last National Champion not named Penn State (winning it all in 2012). While both were in the same conference, only once (2003) was a team other than Nebraska or Texas the winner of the Big 12. Ten of these years, Nebraska won, two Texas won, and two the teams tied (there is no conference tournament in volleyball, so conference record determines a winner.)
In a fun historical side note, Nebraska defeated Texas in 1995 to win its first National Championship--this was also the first NCAA championship volleyball match to be totally devoid of a west coast team, signaling the coming rise of midwestern volleyball.
In spite of Nebraska's move to the Big Ten, the two teams still meet with some regularity, either during OOC tournaments to start the season, and/or in post-season play. Most recently, Nebraska lost to Texas in Austin in a five-set match in September. Alarmingly, Texas has bested Nebraska in seven of the last eight matches the teams have played. The last three matches have gone five sets.
Luckily, as an Iowa fan or two has mentioned this season, the past is the past, and it doesn't matter. Tonight is all that matters, and Nebraska is playing some great volleyball right now. But so is Texas, a physically large and strong team, who made the normally stout-defensed Golden Gophers look thoroughly disoriented in the semifinals. This will be a tough one for the Huskers to win--but it's also tough to finish the season on a 15-0 win streak, so don't count them out.
What I do know is that this has the potential to be a great match. The Huskers have an extremely rare opportunity--not just to win a National Championship, but to win a National Championship in their home state. The last time they won it all, it was in Omaha (2006). The chance to win it all in front of nearly 18,000 fans (95% of whom will be wearing red) and escort that trophy the short 50 miles back to Lincoln will no doubt inspire their very best effort. I can't wait. GBR.
Of course you'd like to watch this epic sporting event, because you aren't crazy. Here are the details:
Nebraska vs. Texas for all the marbles, ESPN2, 7:30 pm ET