For the first time this postseason, the first-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions will go on the road as they face the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who come into the semifinals as the fifth seed despite an arguably tougher slate than some seeded ahead of them.
PSU hosted a region in the tournament, the first year in which the top four seeds in the volleyball tourney each played host, dropping only two sets in the first two rounds. The Lions’ last match to send them into the semifinals was another conference foe; the Michigan State Spartans, always dangerous in the postseason, exceeded their lack of seed by making it to the regional finals before losing to the Nittany Lions in three (close) sets.
The Lions are looking for a record-setting eighth national title this season, all under current head coach Russ Rose. After a disappointing 2016, the veteran head coach implemented a brand-new offense this year, utilizing two setters who also, especially in the case of Abby Detering, have an ability to hit at the net. The new 6-2 front has allowed other stars to break out, with senior Simone Lee being named the Big Ten Player of the Year, and senior Haleigh Washington, who holds the best hitting percentage in the nation, being named the conference’s defensive player of the year.
Next up for Penn State is the only team to have defeated them on the year; the Huskers came into Rec Hall early on in the season and easily dispatched then-#2 PSU, beating the home team in straight sets despite the Lions not hitting poorly. Nebraska comes into this postseason having been a relative preseason underdog; the Huskers were preseason number five, but lost three returning All-Americans (including the Rolfzen twins). Penn State is perhaps even more surprising, though no one should count out Rose—the Lions were preseason number six.
Overall, the Lions are 10-20 against the Huskers all-time (3-7 in the tournament), as Nebraska just seems to have Penn State’s number many times. In post-season play, though, there’s been a decided disadvantage, with 9 of the ten meetings being hosted within the state of Nebraska.
In Penn State’s favor, of course, is having Rose on their sidelines still. With his teams almost always seeming to peak late in the season if not entirely in December, Rose’s teams are 16-11 in the tournament against current teams in the Big Ten (13-4 to non-Nebraska teams), and is 13-5 against teams they’ve played earlier in the conference play.
The winner will play the winner of the second semifinal (either #3 Florida or #4 Stanford) on Saturday night.
What: NCAA Women’s Volleyball Semifinals
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, MO
Opponent: #5 Nebraska Cornhuskers (30-4)
Date & Time: Thursday, December 14, 7 pm (ET)
TV: ESPN (not dos or U, but the real deal)
Radio: Online via gopsusports