The Nebraska volleyball team announced its 2017 schedule on Monday, featuring 15 of 30 matches against teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last year.
The defending Big Ten champion Huskers begin the season on Aug. 25-26 at the VERT Challenge in Gainesville, Florida, where the Big Red will face Oregon and the host Gators. The VERT Challenge is in its third year of a four-year cycle. The Huskers will host the tournament in 2018.
Nebraska will open at home on Sept. 1-2 with the annual Ameritas Players Challenge. NU will play two matches on Friday, Sept. 1 and one on Saturday, Sept. 2. The other teams in the tournament are Oral Roberts, Saint Mary’s and Maryland-Baltimore County. Official matchups and times will be announced at a later date. All home matches that are not part of the Ameritas Players Challenge are tentatively set for a 7 p.m. start, though some start times – and possibly dates – will change once TV selections are made. Fans are reminded to check Huskers.com for schedule changes and the most up-to-date information.
Instead of hosting a second tournament this season, Nebraska will play UCLA at the Devaney Center on back-to-back nights on Sept. 8-9. Nebraska and UCLA were regular opponents from 2000-2012, playing eight times - including seven meetings in John Cook’s first 10 seasons at Nebraska. But the teams will end a five-year break when they meet in September. UCLA was one win away from reaching the final four last year.
The Huskers will finish the non-conference portion of the schedule with a trip to Omaha for three matches at the Omaha Challenge, hosted by UNO at Baxter Arena. The Huskers will meet the Mavericks on Saturday, Sept. 16 at 7:30 p.m. for the first time since Omaha transitioned to Division I in 2011. The teams haven’t played since 1990. Nebraska is set to face Kansas State and Northern Iowa that weekend as well. It will be a homecoming for Husker senior setter Kelly Hunter, who grew up in Papillion, Nebraska, just a few minutes down the road from the UNO campus.
The Huskers begin the 20-match Big Ten schedule with a rugged stretch at the beginning of conference play. Of Nebraska’s first seven Big Ten matches, five will be against teams that advanced to an NCAA regional last year. In the first month of the Big Ten season, NU will visit Penn State (Sept. 22) and Wisconsin (Oct. 11), and will host Minnesota (Sept. 29), Wisconsin (Sept. 30) and Michigan State (Oct. 4). The Huskers will also visit Rutgers (Sept. 23) and Iowa (Oct. 7) in that stretch.
Despite the tough start, Nebraska’s six single-play Big Ten opponents are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State. Four of those teams (Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State) reached an NCAA regional last year, and the six combined for a 68-52 (.567) Big Ten record.
After a trip to Purdue on Oct. 14, Nebraska will host Northwestern on Oct. 20 and Illinois – led by new head coach and former Husker assistant Chris Tamas – on Oct. 21. The Huskers travel to face Michigan State and Michigan on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 before a four-match home stretch: Purdue (Nov. 3), Indiana (Nov. 4), Maryland (Nov. 8) and Rutgers (Nov. 11).
NU will play three straight matches on the road – Ohio State (Nov. 17), Maryland (Nov. 18) and Northwestern (Nov. 22) – before closing the regular season at home against Iowa on Saturday, Nov. 25.
For the second straight year, the top 16 seeds will host the NCAA Tournament first and second rounds (Nov. 30-Dec. 2), and the top remaining seed in each quadrant of the bracket after the second round will have the chance to host one of the four regionals on Dec. 8-9.
The Huskers were one of the four teams to host a regional in 2016, as they beat Penn State and Washington to advance to the NCAA Semifinals for the second straight year. The 2017 NCAA Semifinals and Championship will be played Dec. 14-16 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. It will be the second appearance of the finals in Kansas City, as UMKC hosted the finals in 2010.