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The Big Ten in the Final Four: the NCAA Volleyball Tournament

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Nebraska and Illinois Get Ready to Throw Down in the Semis

Mikaela Foecke, the best thing to ever come out of Iowa, and it’s not even close.
Jon Johnston|CornNation.com

Spoiler alert:

Our volleyball coverage has been a bit lax this season, which is my fault. I now have a very busy new real life job, which is great, and writing our new Fall’s Tarts feature sort of sucked up my spare writing time.

But in spite of my pitiful coverage efforts, the Big Ten once again had a great year in volleyball. All good things must come to an end, however, and last weekend saw several Big Ten teams get knocked out of the tournament. A brief recap:

Penn State (#8 seed)

Friday night found the Nittany Lions cruising to a relatively easy win over tournament veteran Washington, with PSU sweeping the Huskies. However, this wasn’t to be a kind quarter of the bracket for Penn State—because on Saturday night, they faced top-seeded Stanford. Stanford is going to be a handful for anyone (I think they should win it all), and although PSU grabbed the first set from the Cardinal, Stanford ultimately advanced in four (18-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16).

Michigan (unseeded)

The Wolverines had a REALLY rough start to their Friday night match—they lost the opening set 25-10, and two of their points were Texas serving errors. It was pretty gruesome. However, to Michigan’s credit, they bounced back nicely in the second, winning 29-27. But the Longhorns proved too tough and took the last two 29-27, and 25-19, putting an end to Michigan’s weekend and their tournament.

Wisconsin (#6 seed)

Wisconsin blew San Diego out of the gym in three sets on Friday night with resounding scores of 25-13, 25-16, 25-10. However, they then faced off against Big Ten foe Illinois, who has been the surprise of the season. The Illini and Wisconsin traded the first two sets, but Illinois narrowly prevailed in the last two, 25-22 and 25-23 to send the Badgers packing.

Minnesota (#2 seed)

The shocker of the weekend was Minnesota’s stunning loss to Oregon (#15 seed). Oregon is obviously no slouch, but many (including me) thought Minnesota was poised to win it all this year. The Ducks had other ideas. The Gophers won a fairly routine first set, 25-21. But set two... oh boy. The teams traded points for seemingly days, before Oregon finally came out on top... 41-39. It’s not a score you see every day. Unfortunately, losing that knocked the stuffing out of Minnesota a bit, and Oregon went on to win out, 25-14 (ouch), and 26-24, sending the Gophers to a surprising early exit made even more disappointing since they hosted not only this round, but also the final weekend.

Illinois (#3)

Friday night found Illinois completing an emphatic and relatively easy sweep of Marquette (#14), and launched them into a Saturday tilt with Wisconsin. As you read above, this one went the right way for the Illini.

Nebraska (#7)

The Huskers first faced #10-seed Kentucky, and had little trouble with the SEC squad, winning in three fairly undramatic sets. This proved useful, as their Saturday night opponent, Oregon, was busily engaged in world’s longest four-setter. On Saturday, the Huskers faced the Ducks, who didn’t seem quite as tired as one might wish. After winning the first two sets close (25-22, 25-23), the Huskers pulled away in the third, completing the sweep 25-17 and sending them to their fourth Final Four in four years.

Final Four

That means that Illinois and Nebraska will be facing each other TONIGHT! It also means that as has become somewhat usual, 50% of the Final Four is from the Big Ten. An all-B1G final is impossible this year, and this match has plenty of storylines to keep even the casual observer interested in this one. To wit:

  • Nebraska and Illinois have played twice this season, and split the results.
  • Illinois coach Chris Tamas is a former Nebraska assistant, serving under John Cook for two seasons—theoretically, both of these men know each others’ game pretty darn well. Has the student become the master, or not quite yet?
  • Nebraska is playing in their fourth semi-final in four years. Their two seniors, Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney are a stunning 20-1—TWENTY AND ONE, YOU GUYS— in post-season play in their careers. They’ve only lost one match in the post-season in their entire college career. They’re two Greats no matter how or when this season ends, but all eyes will be watching to see if they can accomplish something no one expected—three National Championships in four years.
  • First though, they have to get through Illinois, who handed the Huskers a terrible loss at the end of November—the Illini forced the Huskers (in Lincoln!) into a .099 hitting performance complete with 30 errors. However... the Huskers haven’t lost since. Can Illinois recapture that magic and send the Huskers packing?
  • Illinois last reached the Final Four in 2011, so this will be new to all of the players. However, coach Chris Tamas has coached in two other Final Fours (with the Huskers in 2015 and 2016), so it will be up to him to get his team ready. So far, he’s appeared up to the task.

So tune in tonight! It should be a dandy. And be sure to catch the winner on Saturday.

Where to watch:

(#3) Illinois vs. (#7) Nebraska

8 pm CST

ESPN

Poll

Who heads to the Finals?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Illinois Finally Gets a Nice Thing
    (37 votes)
  • 59%
    Husker Experience Carries the Day
    (54 votes)
91 votes total Vote Now