Once again Wisconsin gets in the way of Nebraska volleyball goals

LINCOLN – For all their successes – 123 wins in five seasons – none of the Huskers have a championship ring in Nebraska.

And the biggest reason why – Wisconsin – will be on the other side of the net on Friday, trying again to stop the Huskers from winning a championship.

No. No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 5 Nebraska play at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center.

It will be the third time in 12 months that the programs will play in a game to determine a championship. Last year, the teams played with the Big Ten title on the line during the final week of the regular season. The Badgers won in four sets and finished one game ahead of the Huskers to win their third straight conference crown.

Three weeks later, Wisconsin defeated NU in five sets to win the program’s first national championship.

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And now the penultimate game of the year will help determine the Big Ten winner. The Huskers must defeat the Badgers and No. 9 Minnesota on Saturday to claim the crown.

“We’ve been working since January to get to this point to have the chance to compete for a Big Ten championship,” said coach John Cook. “The team has worked hard and the staff have worked very hard. We have to go for it. It will be fun for our fans.”

At 24-3 overall and 16-2 in the Big Ten, Nebraska’s losses have racked up the top-10 teams: Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Huskers struggled through seven of nine games on the road, but the payoff now comes with three home games in a row to close out the regular season.

“We gave ourselves the opportunity to play for the Big Ten Championship this weekend, which is really cool,” said senior Madi Kubik.

The final list of Big Ten matches pits top-10 teams against each other, which Cook said BTN played a part in setting up. Last season, the UW-NU game set a record with 375,000 viewers on BTN.

“That’s all Big Ten, and Big Ten (Network) came up with that,” Cook said. “That’s one of the reasons they’re taking so long to get the schedule out, because I think they’re trying to figure out how to do all of this and try to make it a big weekend.”

The Nebraska seniors—Nicklin Hames, Kenzie Knuckles and Kubik—have been in championship-winning positions and fell just short, including twice in the national championship game to Hames.

“These guys need a ring, whether it’s a Big Ten ring or a national championship ring,” Cook said. “That’s pretty much the only thing left on the table that they have to go after.”

To do this, Nebraska will need to reverse its 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 loss to the Badgers on October 26.

“We need to find a way to win some exciting games against top teams. That’s what it comes down to,” said Cook.

Overall, Wisconsin has won nine consecutive games against Nebraska in five seasons.

One of the areas the Huskers held back in the first game was serve and receive, which was unusual for them.

“We didn’t handle it well, so we’re going to have to be better if we want to have a chance,” said Cook.

Knuckles is confident that passing Nebraska will be better this time as well.

“We know exactly what they’re going to do, so it’s honestly just having a mindset to go in and do it and be aggressive with what we’re doing,” Knuckles said.

The Badgers roll into Lincoln on a 16-game winning streak. Their only Big Ten loss came in their second league game, a sweep by Minnesota.

Cook says his team needs to attack better and not allow so many long runs. But the players – and fans – know the lineup of the badgers well.

In the first game against the Huskers, outside hit Sarah Franklin had 21 kills with a .385 batting percentage. Devyn Robinson added nine kills.

“We can’t let Franklin get 21 kills, so there’s a good start,” Cook said. “And they know that. And we can’t let Robinson bounce balls on us. We don’t even have to talk about names. They know.”

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