Nebraska was rated No. 1 in the nation when the weekly ratings came out this past Monday.
But that No. 1-rating will be short lived after the Huskers fell to No. 2 Stanford in four sets Wednesday night at the Devaney Sports Center.
Now both teams will go about the business of the regular season with the goal of a national championship waiting at the end.
They’ve both been successful in recent years. The Huskers have been to the Final Four four straight seasons and won two national titles (2015, 2017).
Stanford has been to the Final Four three straight years and won national titles in 2016 and 2018.
Now, just like last year, the Cardinal — with six players back from last year’s championship team and playing at an extremely high level — will be the hunted. The Huskers will be the hunters.
“Their challenge is going to be how they’re going to stay hungry and keep playing at this level,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “Our challenge is how we’re going to grow from this and get better over the next two-and-a-half months.
“That’s what last year’s team did, and I have confidence we will continue to do that.”
Cook seems to have found a way to do that. The 2015 team lost back-to-back home matches against Minnesota and Wisconsin before rolling off a run of 16 straight wins that ended with another national title.
The 2017 team, playing without All-American setter Kelly Hunter, opened the season 0-2 after losses to Oregon and Florida, but later won 19 in a row and the team’s second national title in three seasons.
Last year the Huskers were 15-5 in the Big Ten, but won 12 in a row before falling to Stanford in the NCAA championship match.
Now heading into Saturday’s 3 p.m. match against Wichita State at the Devaney Center, the Huskers know what they need to do as they tune up for the Big Ten opener Friday at Illinois.
“Our players understand the level we have to be at,” Cook said. “Mainly the players who haven’t been in this environment before. Our older players understand they have to hold everybody accountable in practice every day. It has to become a habit.”
Freshmen like libero Kenzie Knuckles and outside hitter Madi Kubik received a baptism by fire against Stanford. They got a taste of what big-time college volleyball is like in front of a crowed of over 8,600.
“Our crowd is great, but it was a whole other level tonight,” Cook said. “That’s the way it should be. But what a great environment for college volleyball. The unfortunate thing for Stanford is they’re not going to play in front of a crowd like that the rest of the year, unless Palo Alto shows up at the Final Four or something.”
Sophomore setter Nicklin Hames said it was good for the Huskers (7-1) to play Stanford.
“I’m glad we played them in preseason because they’re going to be the best team,” Hames said. “Knowing we took a set off them and can compete at that level is awesome. I’m proud of how hard we fought and I know we can get there.”
Cook said he saw runs of championship-style play for the Huskers, but they need to be more consistent. Hames saw that too.
“I feel like we were going after it,” Hames said. “But I feel like at times we would let a string of points get away from us. I feel like overall we need to be a lot more consistent with our serving and our passing and everything we’re doing. You see it in moments we were really great and right there with them, and then we kind of go down a level.”