KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The fifth-seeded Nebraska volleyball team will face No. 2 seed Florida in the NCAA Championship at 8 p.m. (CT) on Saturday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The match will be televised live by ESPN2 and streamed on ESPN3.com and the WatchESPN app.
Head Coach John Cook and Husker players talked about the season and the upcoming match against Florida on Friday afternoon. You can hear their comments by watching the videos above.
Nebraska earned its eighth all-time trip to the NCAA Championship match after a thrilling 3-2 win against top-ranked Penn State on Thursday night. The Huskers rallied from down in sets, 2-1, and were up against match point in set four before staving off elimination and rallying for a five-set win. The Huskers, in the midst of their third straight trip to the final four, will play for the school’s fifth national title against a Florida Gators squad that is making its second NCAA Championship appearance and is seeking its first national title.
John Cook has won three national championships at Nebraska, and he is coaching a Husker team in the NCAA Final for the fifth time in his 18 seasons. NU’s most recent national title came in 2015, and Cook is 3-1 in his four previous trips to the final at Nebraska, also winning titles in 2000 and 2006.
The match will be on Husker Sports Network radio affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. A live audio stream will be provided at Huskers.com and on the official Huskers app and TuneIn app. John Baylor is in his 24th season doing play-by-play for the Husker volleyball program. Lauren Cook, a former All-America setter for the Huskers, will provide color commentary.
About the Huskers
• The No. 5 Huskers own a 31-4 record, winning 30-plus matches for the 23rd time in school history and for the 11th time under John Cook. Nebraska is one of nine teams nationally with 30 wins in 2017.
• The Huskers are making their eighth trip to the NCAA Finals. Nebraska is 4-3 in its seven previous trips, including a 3-1 record in championship matches under John Cook. Nebraska ranks second in NCAA Division I history in NCAA Tournament wins (107) and winning percentage (.775), and the Huskers are third in NCAA Tournament appearances (36), NCAA Finals appearances (8) and national titles (4).
• Nebraska has reached three consecutive NCAA Semifinals for the first time in program history.
• The Huskers have won a season-high 18 straight matches, the longest streak in the nation after NU ended Penn State’s 23-match win streak on Thursday. PSU finished the year 33-2 with both losses coming to Nebraska.
• Nebraska’s 18-match win streak matches its longest win streak in a single season since the 2008 team won 20 matches in a row to begin the season (NU also won 18 straight matches in 2010).
• The last time Nebraska faced an opponent in the NCAA Tournament it lost to during the regular season was in 2015, when Nebraska lost in five sets at Texas in the fourth match of the season but then swept the Longhorns in the NCAA Final. This year, Nebraska lost in five sets at Florida in the second match of the year.
• The Huskers were co-Big Ten Champions with Penn State, as both teams finished 19-1. Since joining the conference in 2011, the Huskers have now claimed three Big Ten titles (2011, 2016 and 2017).
• NU is 11-3 against ranked opponents in 2017, including 6-0 against top-10 teams and 3-0 vs. top-five foes.
• John Cook is 65-14 in his NCAA Tournament career at Nebraska with three national titles. On Saturday, he is looking to become just the fourth coach to win four NCAA volleyball national titles. He would be only the third coach to win four championships at one school and just the second to win four titles in the 64-team era.
• Nebraska dropped just 11 sets in Big Ten play this season, its fewest since joining the conference in 2011.
• NU, which led the nation in attendance, finished with a perfect 17-0 home record in 2017, its first perfect record at home since 2010. The Huskers have won a nation-leading 30 straight matches at home.
• Nebraska ranks 11th in the nation in opponent hitting percentage (.154). The Huskers are also 14th in hitting percentage (.283) and 22nd nationally in kills per set (14.22).
• In NCAA Tournament play, Nebraska leads all teams in aces per set (2.22) and rank second in opponent hitting percentage (.165). The Huskers are sixth in blocks per set at 3.00.
• Kelly Hunter, the Big Ten Setter of the Year and a first-team AVCA All-American, is putting up 10.78 assists per set and 2.76 digs per set. The only NCAA Division I setter who has set her team to both a national and conference championship (twice), Hunter ranks second in school history with 4,088 career assists at NU.
• Kelly is 15-1 in her NCAA Tournament career as Nebraska’s starting setter, posting the most wins and best winning percentage (.938) by a Husker starting setter in the NCAA Tournament.
• Mikaela Foecke leads NU with 3.48 kills per set and adds 2.32 digs per set in her first season as a six-rotation player. Foecke was named a second-team All-American, a unanimous All-Big Ten selection and was the Lexington Regional Most Outstanding Player.
• Annika Albrecht, also an AVCA second-team All-American, provides 3.06 kills per set and 2.74 digs per set. Albrecht has 139 career service aces, which ranks sixth in NU career history. Albrecht was also named to the All-Big Ten team.
• Albrecht is set to play her 21st career NCAA Tournament match on Saturday, which would tie the NU record.
• Briana Holman averages 2.43 kills and 1.15 blocks per set with a team-best .357 hitting percentage.
• Jazz Sweet adds 2.25 kills per set as the right-side hitter, while Lauren Stivrins chips in 2.07 kills and 1.04 blocks per set at middle blocker. Both Sweet and Stivrins were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
• Kenzie Maloney’s 12 aces in the NCAA Tournament lead the nation and have tied the NU postseason record.
• This year marks the ninth time in the past 11 seasons that a current Big Ten team has made it to the NCAA Final.
• John Cook, Nebraska: 18th year at Nebraska (530-69); 25th year overall (691-142)
• Mary Wise, Florida: 27th year at Florida (824-100); 31st year overall (905-163)
• Nebraska is 8-3 all-time against Florida, including the Gators’ 3-2 home victory in the second match of this season for both teams. In that meeting, Nebraska was without Big Ten Setter of the Year and first-team All-American Kelly Hunter, and the Huskers led 2-1 before the Gators rallied for the win.
• Nebraska has won both NCAA Tournament matches between the programs, including a 3-2 win in the 2001 regional final in Lincoln and a 3-0 sweep in the 2005 regional final in Omaha.
• Florida is 30-1 this season with a lone loss to Kentucky, which the Gators avenged two weeks later.
• The Gators own the top winning percentage in the NCAA (.968).
• In the NCAA Tournament, Florida has defeated Alabama A&M (3-0), Miami (3-1), UCLA (3-1), USC (3-2) and Stanford (3-2). Against USC in the regional final, Florida rallied from a 2-1 deficit in sets.
• The Gators are aiming for their first NCAA title on Saturday in their second NCAA Finals appearance. A Florida win would also mark the first time an SEC team has won an NCAA volleyball title.
• Florida is 8-1 against ranked opponents this season, including 4-1 against top-10 teams and 3-0 vs. top-five foes.
• The Gators rank third nationally in opponent hitting percentage (.141) and ninth in blocks per set (2.96).
• Offensively, Florida ranks 13th nationally in hitting percentage (.283).
• In NCAA Tournament play, Florida leads the field in digs (307) and assists (253) and ranks second in kills (266).
• Individually, Florida boasts three All-Americans in first-team selection Rhamat Alhassan (MB), second-team honorees Shainah Joseph (RS) and Carli Snyder (OH) and third-team pick Rachael Kramer (MB). Caroline Knop (L)was an honorable-mention All-America selection.
• Alhassan, the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, is averaging 2.72 kills per set on .405 hitting while adding 1.70 blocks per set. She leads the nation in blocks per set and is 14th in hitting percentage.
• Josephs adds 2.54 kills per set and is hitting .364.
• Snyder paces Florida with 384 kills. She is averaging 3.43 kills per set and 3.24 digs per set. She has also added 56 service aces, the ninth-highest total in the country. Snyder had eight kills and a career-high 27 digs in the regular-season matchup with Nebraska.
• Kramer averaged 2.70 kills per set and 1.05 blocks per set and is attacking at a team-best .413 clip. In the regular-season matchup with Nebraska, Kramer totaled a career-high 20 kills on only 28 swings, hitting .679 with just one error.
• Knop has totaled 505 digs this season, averaging 4.51 digs per set.
Hunter Guides Young Husker Squad
• All-America setter Kelly Hunter is in her senior season after leading NU to a national championship and a Big Ten championship the past two seasons as team captain and starting setter.
• Hunter was named a first-team AVCA All-American and the Big Ten Setter of the Year this season, and she also repeated on the All-Big Ten team as a unanimous selection.
• Hunter was also named the AVCA North Region Player of the Year by the head coaches in the region.
• Hunter ranks second in school history with 4,088 career assists at NU. In the regional final win at Kentucky, Hunter joined Fiona Nepo (4,824) as the only Huskers to reach 4,000 career assists at Nebraska.
• Hunter is 15-1 in her NCAA Tournament career as Nebraska’s starting setter. She owns the best winning percentage by a Husker setter in the postseason (.938) and holds the record for the most NCAA Tournament wins by a starting setter in Husker history. Hunter and Fiona Nepo are the only players to set Nebraska to three NCAA Semifinals, and Hunter is the first to do so in three consecutive seasons.
• Hunter was named the Big Ten Setter of the Week on Sept. 11 after a double-double of 31 assists and 14 digs against UCLA on Sept. 9.
• She added another honor on Sept. 25 after averaging 12.33 assists in sweeps at Penn State and Rutgers. She has eight career weekly Big Ten awards.
• For the season, Hunter is averaging 10.78 assists per set and 2.76 digs per set. She has a team-best 16 double-doubles, including four in the NCAA Tournament.
Albrecht Steps Up as Senior Captain
• Senior outside hitter Annika Albrecht was named a team captain along with Kelly Hunter prior to the season and has stepped into her new role as a six-rotation hitter for the Huskers. She received All-Big Ten honors this year for the first time in her career, as well as AVCA second-team All-America honors for the first time.
• Albrecht provides 3.06 kills and 2.74 digs per set along with 34 service aces. She is sixth in school history in career aces with 139.
• Albrecht leads Nebraska with 63 kills and 3.50 kills per set through five NCAA Tournament matches, and she has had at least 13 kills in four of the Huskers’ five postseason matches. Albrecht totaled just 11 kills in her first 15 NCAA Tournament matches the past three seasons, when she only played in the back row.
• The North Aurora, Illinois native made national headlines this season when she tallied a career-high 19 kills on .400 hitting in a 3-0 sweep at Penn State on Sept. 22. For her performance, Albrecht was named the Big Ten Player of the Week, Sports Imports/AVCA Player of the Week and the espnW Player of the Week. The honors were all the first of her career.
Foecke Excelling in Six-Rotation Role
• Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke is averaging 3.48 kills per set to lead the Huskers. She was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection this year and a second-team AVCA All-American.
• In Thursday’s semifinal against No. 1 Penn State, Foecke produced her first career double-double in 16 NCAA Tournament matches. Foecke had a match-high 19 kills against the Nittany Lions and a career-high 19 digs.
• Last weekend, Foecke was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Lexington Regional after totaling 25 kills in two matches, averaging 3.6 kills per set. Foecke had 18 kills on .375 hitting in the regional final at No. 6 Kentucky.
• Foecke worked hard to become a six-rotation player entering her junior season and has been effective in that role, adding 2.32 digs per set. Foecke has eight double-doubles this season and leads the team in aces with 38.
• Foecke was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Oct. 30 after 14 kills, five digs and three blocks at Michigan State and 13 kills, nine digs and five blocks at Michigan.
• Foecke was a unanimous preseason All-Big Ten selection and was one of just two players to earn a unanimous selection (Minnesota setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson).
• Foecke was the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player in 2015 - becoming just the third freshman to earn the honor - after 19 kills on .385 hitting in the championship win against Texas. The other freshmen to win the award were Deja McClendon (Penn State, 2010) and Kerri Walsh (Stanford, 1996).
Holman Leads Husker Middle Blockers
• Senior Briana Holman guides a relatively young group of Husker middle blockers, as she teams with redshirt freshman Lauren Stivrins and is backed up by true freshman Chesney McClellan.
• Holman is averaging 2.43 kills and a team-high 1.15 blocks per set for the Huskers while hitting a team-best .357.
• Holman was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 5 and the MVP of the Ameritas Players Challenge after a dominating display over three matches with 25 kills and 18 blocks on .525 hitting.
• Holman earned AVCA All-Region honors for the fourth time in her career this season and received All-Big Ten honorable mention for a second straight year and AVCA All-America honorable mention for the third time in her career.
• Holman was a first-team AVCA All-American at LSU in 2014 with 3.94 kills and 1.47 blocks per set. She was a two-time All-SEC performer for the Tigers and represented the U.S. Collegiate National Team at the World University Games in South Korea in July 2015.
Huskers Turn to Freshmen for Instant Impact
• With five true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen on the roster, the Huskers needed some new talent to step up in a big way in 2017, and that has happened. All seven have seen playing time this season.
• Redshirt freshman middle blocker Lauren Stivrins is averaging 2.07 kills per set and 1.04 blocks per set.
• Freshman outside hitter Jazz Sweet is fourth on the team in kills at 2.25 per set and is hitting .280. Sweet had an outstanding debut with 14 kills on .375 hitting against Oregon and 16 kills on .323 hitting at Florida. Against Penn State, she terminated 12 times with a .375 hitting percentage.
• Both Sweet and Stivrins were All-Big Ten Freshman honorees.
• Redshirt freshman setter Hunter Atherton has made two starts and played in 19 matches and has 137 set assists, 46 digs and 13 service aces.
• Freshman outside hitter Anezka Szabo, who plays the same right-side hitter position as Sweet, tallied 10 kills on .400 hitting against Saint Mary’s and has played in 14 matches.
• Freshman defensive specialist Hayley Densberger has earned a reputation as one of the Huskers’ best servers and has 10 aces and 38 digs in 29 matches played.
• Freshman middle blocker Chesney McClellan has played in four matches and started the Rutgers match on Sept. 23, producing seven kills and four blocks on .462 hitting.
• Freshman outside hitter Sami Slaughter has played in six matches and had four kills in limited action against Rutgers on Nov. 12.
Huskers Ranked No. 5 in AVCA Coaches Poll
• Nebraska was ranked No. 5 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll, which was released at the conclusion of the regular season on Nov. 27.
• The Huskers have been ranked No. 1 in 98 all-time polls, the most in NCAA history.
• The Huskers have been ranked in the top 10 a total of 469 times, which is also the most in NCAA history.
• Nebraska has appeared in all 524 AVCA Coaches Polls since it was established in 1982. Nebraska and Stanford are the only two programs to be ranked in every poll all-time.
Hunter, Townsend Earn CoSIDA Academic All-District Honors; Townsend Repeats as Elite 90 Winner
• Senior setter Kelly Hunter received CoSIDA Academic All-District first-team honors in November, while Sydney Townsend was a second-team honoree. Hunter advanced to the national ballot for CoSIDA Academic All-America honors.
• Hunter, a Papillion-La Vista South graduate, carries a 3.45 cumulative GPA and is a graduate student in the Master of Business Administration program. Hunter received her bachelor’s degree in management/marketing last year.
• Townsend, a Lincoln Pius X graduate, carries a 3.83 GPA majoring in biochemistry. Townsend won a second straight Elite 90 Award at the final four this year and is a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and a four-time academic All-Big Ten selection.
Cook Adds to Legacy; Joins AVCA Hall of Fame
• Nebraska head coach John Cook is in his 18th season as the Nebraska volleyball head coach in 2017. He has led the Huskers to three national championships, eight final fours, 12 conference championships and 15 top-10 final rankings since 2000. Cook has 691 career wins and is one of the all-time winningest coaches in NCAA history.
• Since taking over the program in 2000, Cook has led the Huskers to a nation-leading .885 win percentage in that time (530-69).
• Under Cook, the Huskers have achieved 49 AVCA All-Americans and 19 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, both among the best in the nation. He is a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year, earning the prestigious honor in 2000 and 2005, and a seven-time conference coach of the year, including Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016 and 2017, his first and second Big Ten honors with the Huskers in their Big Ten era (2011-present).
• Cook was named the AVCA North Region Coach of the Year in 2016, his fifth career regional coaching honor and fourth while at Nebraska.
• Cook is one of only four active coaches - and one of six all-time - to be a two-time AVCA National Coach of the Year and was honored in 2008 by USA Volleyball, receiving its All-Time Great Coach Award.
• Cook was inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame Thursday morning in Kansas City. Cook joined former Husker volleyball coach Terry Pettit in the hall.
Husker Fans Set Attendance Standard Once Again
• Nebraska fans led the nation in attendance for a fifth straight season in 2017, averaging 8,202 fans per match, nearly 2,000 more than any other school.
• In 2016, the Huskers also led the nation with an average attendance of 8,210 fans per match, a new NCAA attendance record, topping its 2015 average of 8,206.
• The Huskers’ total attendance of 155,986 in 19 home matches also set a school record.
• In 2013, the Huskers led the nation in attendance (8,175) for the first time since 1992, ending Hawaii’s 21-year reign as the national leader.
• The Huskers repeated as attendance champions in 2014 with 8,083 fans per match, which included a school-record 8,585 fans at the Oct. 3 win against Penn State.
• Nebraska has ranked in the top three nationally in attendance every season since 1990 (27 straight seasons).
• The Huskers have sold out every regular-season match since 2001, a streak of 236 consecutive matches, the longest sellout streak in the history of NCAA women’s athletics.
• The Devaney Center has hosted three of the four largest regular-season crowds in NCAA history and six of the 10 largest.
Huskers Get Depth From Former Husker Women’s Basketball Player Allie Havers
• The Huskers gained some depth at middle blocker when former Husker women’s basketball player Allie Havers joined the team in the spring.
• Havers, a 6-5 native of Mattawan, Michigan, has one season of eligibility to play volleyball, a sport she excelled at in high school. Havers was a first-team Class A all-state player in Michigan in 2012 and a finalist for Michigan’s Miss Volleyball in 2013.
• On the Nebraska women’s basketball team, Havers closed her career having played in 125 games with 50 starts. She ranked among the top 50 career scorers (720 points) and top 25 career rebounders (541) in Husker history.
• Havers had a shining moment in the NCAA Tournament first-round match against Stony Brook. She entered the match late in the third set and pounded the first two kills of her career to bring the crowd to a standing ovation.
Cook’s Coaching Tree Continues to Grow
• Nebraska head coach John Cook’s assistant coaches have a great track record of moving on to become head coaches.
• After the 2016 season, Nebraska assistants Chris Tamas and Dani Busboom Kelly both accepted high-level Division I head coaching jobs. Busboom Kelly became the head coach at Louisville, while Tamas accepted the head coaching job at Big Ten foe Illinois. Tamas led his Fighting Illini squad to the Sweet 16 in his first year, while Busboom Kelly made the NCAA Tournament with Louisville and was named the AVCA East Region Coach of the Year.
• Seven assistants under Cook have become head coaches following their time on Cook’s Nebraska staff: Craig Skinner (Kentucky), Lee Maes (Virginia), Lizzy Stemke (Georgia), Dan Conners (UC Davis), Dan Meske (Augustana, Associate Head Coach at Louisville), Busboom Kelly and Tamas.
• In the last seven years, five of Cook’s Husker assistants have become head coaches.
New Players, New Coaches
• Not only are six of the 15 Husker players new to the program, so are the two Husker assistant coaches. Former Husker and U.S. Olympic libero Kayla Banwarth, and former Long Beach State men’s associate head coach Tyler Hildebrand are on the Husker bench this year.
• Hildebrand joined the Nebraska coaching staff as an assistant in February of 2017. Hildebrand came to Nebraska after five seasons on the coaching staff of the Long Beach State men’s volleyball program, including two seasons as associate head coach. In 2017, he was the AVCA Division I-II Men’s National Assistant Coach of the Year. A former All-American at Long Beach State, Hildebrand was the top assistant there from 2013-15 after a decorated playing career on the U.S. Men’s National Team. He is a former setter who coordinated both the offense and the blocking defense at Long Beach State at one point in his career.
• Banwarth joined the Nebraska volleyball coaching staff as an assistant in January of 2017. Banwarth completed an illustrious playing career for the Huskers in 2010 before embarking on a professional playing career that saw her win an Olympic bronze medal with the U.S. National Team, as well as an FIVB World Championship. Banwarth is relatively new to the coaching profession after finishing her professional career with the U.S. National Team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A U.S. National Team libero since 2011, Banwarth spent two years as a volunteer assistant coach for the Pepperdine men’s volleyball team.