The No. 11 Nebraska volleyball team (20-6, 15-3 Big Ten) plays its final two matches of the regular season this Thanksgiving weekend, visiting No. 5 Wisconsin (23-3, 15-3) on Friday and No. 6 Purdue (22-5,14-4) on Saturday.
Friday’s match against the Badgers is set for 4:30 p.m. at UW Field House in Madison, Wis., and will be televised on BTN and streamed via its digital extension on the FOX Sports app. Larry Punteney will handle play-by-play duties, and Salima Rockwell will provide color commentary.
Saturday’s 8 p.m. CT match against the Boilermakers will be televised on BTN and streamed on the FOX Sports app. Punteney will be on play-by-play alongside color analyst Emily Ehman.
This week’s action will be carried on Huskers Radio Network with the NU radio team of John Baylor and Lauren Cook West. Baylor is in his 28th season handling play-by-play duties for the Husker volleyball program, and West, a former All-America setter at NU, will provide color commentary for the sixth straight year.
Note: Nebraska’s conference record listed above reflects the Big Ten standings, which credit NU with a Nov. 20 win by forfeit over Rutgers in alignment with the conference’s forfeiture policies.
The race is on
The Big Ten title race has come down to the final weekend, with Nebraska, Wisconsin and Purdue all still in contention. Nebraska and Wisconsin are tied for the lead in the conference standings at 15-3 and have a one-game lead over third-place Purdue (14-4).
The winner of Friday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin match will earn at least a share of the Big Ten championship and the chance to capture the title outright with a victory the following night. Should the Badgers and Huskers split their two matches this weekend, Purdue can earn a share of the title by winning its final two matches at home.
The Huskers previously won three Big Ten regular-season titles — 2011, 2016 and 2017. They captured the 2011 and 2016 crowns outright and shared the 2017 title with Penn State. Wisconsin has won seven Big Ten regular-season titles, including the last two in 2019 and 2020. Purdue owns two titles: 1982 and 1985.
Lauren Stivrins is the only player on the Husker roster to have won a Big Ten championship, as she was part of NU’s conference title run in 2017 as a redshirt freshman. It was the Huskers’ 34th conference championship in program history and their third since joining the Big Ten. Current volunteer assistant coach Kelly Hunter — then a senior setter — was also a key part of the Huskers’ run that season.
The Huskers remain at No. 11 in the AVCA national poll for the third straight week. They are 13th in the latest NCAA RPI report.
Nebraska plays on back-to-back nights this weekend (Nov. 26-27) to close out the Big Ten slate. The Huskers have previously had at least one day between all other conference matches this fall. Their last time playing on consecutive nights was the Ameritas Players Challenge (Sept. 3-4).
NU will have played three straight ranked opponents to cap the regular season: No. 15 Penn State (Nov. 19), No. 5 Wisconsin (Nov. 26) and No. 6 Purdue (Nov. 27).
Last Saturday’s match against Rutgers (Nov. 20) was cancelled due to non-COVID illnesses within the Scarlet Knight program. In alignment with Big Ten forfeiture policies, the match is recorded as a Nebraska win and a Rutgers loss in the Big Ten standings.
Nebraska was the last unbeaten team in Big Ten play. Its 10-0 start was their second-best since joining the conference in 2011.
Scouting the Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin is 23-3 (15-3 Big Ten) and carries a three-match win streak after outlasting Minnesota in a five-set marathon on the road last Sunday. Three of those sets went to extra points. Five Badgers had a double-figure kill night, led by Dana Rettke’s 21 kills on .372 hitting. Jade Demps added 18 kills with 14 digs for a double-double, and Devyn Robinson had had 13 kills on a .417 night. Grace Loberg (14) and Julia Orzol (14 kills, 14 digs) rounded it out. Sydney Hilley recorded another double-double on 65 assists and 16 digs.
Hilley was named Big Ten Setter of the Week, and Julia Orzol was the conference’s Freshman of the Week on Monday.
Hilley leads the Big Ten with 12.15 assists per set in conference matches, and Rettke is second for blocks per set (1.37) and hitting percentage (.409). As a team, the Badgers lead the league with a .268 attack percentage, 14.85 kills per set and 13.60 assists per set in conference play.
Kelly Sheffield is in his ninth season in Madison. He owns a record of 226-53 at UW and a career mark of 499-165 over 21 years as a head coach.
The Badgers have gone 5-2 since their first meeting with Nebraska this season on Oct. 27.
Noting the series: vs. Wisconsin
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 19-9-1, including 9-8 in the John Cook era and 8-7 as Big Ten peers. NU trails 4-5-1 on the road in the series.
The Badgers have won six straight in the series. The most recent meeting was Oct. 27 at the Devaney Center, which UW won 3-0.
Nebraska and Wisconsin last played in Madison on Dec. 14, 2019 in the NCAA Regional Final, which the Badgers won 3-0. The Huskers’ last win in Madison was Nov. 8, 2013 by a score of 3-1. They have dropped the last five matches set there.
Scouting the Purdue Boilermakers
Purdue, which plays host to Indiana Friday night, enters the weekend at 22-5 (14-4 Big Ten). The Boilermakers have responded to an Oct. 23 loss at Nebraska with an eight-match win streak.
Purdue downed Northwestern 3-1 last Saturday, led by Caitlyn Newton’s 21 kills on .364 hitting. Hayley Bush had a double-double on 43 assists and 12 digs with five kills.
Jena Otec ranks third among Big Ten players with 4.67 digs per set in conference play, while Jael Johnson and Taylor Trammell are third (1.33 blocks per set) and fourth (1.31 b/s), respectively, among conference blockers. The Boilermakers are averaging a league-leading 3.01 blocks per set as a team. They have the second-lowest opponent hitting percentage (.173), behind only Nebraska (.149).
Dave Shondell is in his 19th season at the helm and owns a career record of 410-204 at Purdue.
Noting the Series: vs. Purdue
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Purdue 20-8, including 11-4 in the John Cook era. The Huskers have won eight of the last nine meetings. The most recent was a 3-1 win for NU at the Devaney Center on Oct. 23.
NU and Purdue last played in West Lafayette on Oct. 26, 2019, which Boilermakers won, 3-2. Nebraska has a 6-5 advantage on the road in the series, and its last win at Purdue was a four-setter on Nov. 16, 2018.
Nebraska awaits its fate for the NCAA Tournament, which begins with the first and second rounds, Dec. 3-4, on campus sites. The complete 2021 tournament field will be unveiled during the NCAA Selection Show this Sunday, Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.