Texas ready to go against Huskers, crowd in volleyball final
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) Not that Nebraska volleyball fans needed any more reason to show up. They love their Cornhuskers, especially when they're close to home playing for a national championship, and Saturday night's NCAA final would be a sellout no matter the opponent.
The fact the Huskers are playing Texas just adds a little spice, maybe a lot.
The CenturyLink Center will be full again, with the tournament attendance record of 17,551 set during Thursday's semifinals likely to be broken, but the full-throated cheers of Nebraska partisans might be even louder this time.
No matter the sport, the Longhorns are the team Nebraska fans love to root against, even though the Huskers left the Big 12 for the Big Ten four years ago.
''People in Nebraska do still get worked up about Texas,'' Huskers coach John Cook said Friday. ''I think it's kind of in the DNA now. I credit Bill Byrne for that.''
Byrne was Nebraska's athletic director when the Big Eight and Southwest Conference merged to form the Big 12 in 1994. Nebraska and Texas usually were on opposite sides when it came to making policies in the new league, and it was no secret the school to the north resented the political clout of the school to the south.
Then there were some big football games. None was bigger than the 2009 Big 12 title game, when Nebraska had the Longhorns beaten until officials put one second back on the clock at the end, just enough time for Texas to kick the winning field goal.
Yes, the third-seeded Longhorns (30-2) know what awaits Saturday.
''The fans,'' coach Jerritt Elliott said, ''are going to be all over us because it's Texas.''
Big 12 player of the year Amy Neal said she's excited about playing for a national title in a tough environment.
''I honestly think it's kind of fun that it'll be packed with Nebraska fans,'' Neal said. ''Whenever we've gone to (Lincoln), it's smaller but it's still a huge arena filled with people, and I think it's fun when the crowd's against us. I think they'll be all over us, like Jerritt said. We embrace that.''
The teams have continued to play every year in the regular season since fourth-seeded Nebraska (31-4) left the Big 12.
''Volleyball likes rivalries, but it's not as personal like football can be,'' Cook said. ''There were some close football games that were controversial and precipitated that. We have a lot of respect for Texas, and they're fun to play.''
Some things to know heading into the title match:
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Texas defeated second-seeded Minnesota in a four-set semifinal and Nebraska beat Kansas in four sets. The Longhorns are playing for their third championship, having won in 1988 and 2012. The Huskers are going for their fourth title, having won in 1995, 2000 and 2006.
THEY MEET AGAIN: Nebraska leads the all-time series 30-21, but Texas won the most recent meeting in five sets in Austin in September. The Longhorns' Ebony Nwanebu had 22 kills, 17 digs and four blocks in her only match of the season. The 2013 national freshman of the year for Southern California injured her back and has only recently begun practicing on a limited basis.
SORE ARM? Texas' Neal had career highs with 25 kills and 67 swings against Minnesota. She laughed when asked if it was just a routine night for her. ''I don't think it's a routine night at all,'' she said. ''Being an outside, you're going to get sets whenever there's a crazy dig or a bad pass or when you get out-of-system balls. That was a factor to how I got so many swings. I don't usually get that many in system. It's just how the game went.''
20 YEARS LATER: Nebraska-Texas is a rematch of the 1995 final. Terry Pettit's Huskers won in four sets for the first of the school's three national titles.