LISTEN: Nebraska Public Media travels to Tampa as Husker volleyball preps for Final Four

Dec. 13, 2023, 5 p.m. ·

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Photo by Brock Lohr

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The Nebraska volleyball squad will take on Pittsburg in the Final Four Thursday night, with a spot in the National Championship on the line.

Nebraska, who is seeking its sixth national title, is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament after an impressive regular season and postseason run.

The Huskers will start four freshman on Thursday night, and don’t have a senior on the roster.

Nebraska Public Media Television Sports Producer Brock Lohr is in Tampa, Florida, the site of the Final Four.

He spoke with Nebraska Public Media Reporter Aaron Bonderson about the excitement surrounding the match, and the horde of Husker fans that have made the trip to watch Thursday’s match.

Below is a transcript of that conversation:

AARON BONDERSON, NEBRASKA PUBLIC MEDIA REPORTER: How's the turnout of Husker fans so far in Tampa Bay?

BROCK LOHR, NEBRASKA PUBLIC MEDIA TELEVISION PRODUCER: We actually just got into Tampa today, about 2:00 p.m.. So this morning we flew out of Omaha at 6 a.m.. and as you could guess, the plane was full of red. We got on at 6 a.m.. and there were already Go Big Red chants going on on the plane and in the airport. We had a layover in St. Louis, and the flight attendants were, you know, wishing Husker Nation good luck. So it's kind of funny just to see this red wave kind of come to Tampa and take over the town and seeing all the Husker fans come in is awesome. And they're used to it. They've been to six of the last nine Final Fours. So this has become somewhat of a frequent thing for them.

BONDERSON: Speaking of the fans, have you been able to talk to any? And if so, how are they feeling about the game?

LOHR: Yeah, absolutely. The energy is high. Lots of excitement. I'm just impressed with the knowledge that Husker fans have. They know all the storylines. They're excited about this matchup with Pittsburgh and they're the ACC champions coming in on Thursday night against Nebraska. So, you know, they're looking forward to the matchup.

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Photo by Brock Lohr

BONDERSON: You mentioned the Pittsburgh Panthers. What do we know about the Huskers matchup there with the Pitt Panthers?

LOHR: All time Nebraska — this is a good thing for Husker Nation — Nebraska is 13-0 versus Pittsburgh. But this is a matchup of the two best defenses in the nation. The Huskers have held their opponents to a .134 hitting percentage, and the Panthers are close behind with .138 hitting percentage on the season. So these two teams have really good defense. In the NCAA tournament, they're the only two teams across the entire field that have held their opponents under .100 hitting percentage so it's pretty impressive.

Pittsburgh, reverse swept Dani Busboom Kelly — most Husker fans know her — and her Louisville Cardinals in the regional final to get to Tampa. And they're the only team in the nation to reach the Final Four in each of the last three seasons. Their head coach is Dan Fisher. He's done a heck of a recruiting job. He's got three of his best players from California. So to get three players to go from California to Pittsburgh is impressive.

And then on the Nebraska side, head coach John Cook is 7-2 in the national semifinals since 2000. So you have got to love his experience in the postseason. We're seeing Nebraska really hit their stride. Middle blocker, Bekka Allick, has been on fire during postseason play. She's averaged 2.4 blocks per set, leading all players in the tournament. And then the Huskers will really look to the junior class for experience, because they're bringing in four freshmen. They're going to be in the starting lineup. And they haven't really experienced what this is like. And so they're going to be looking to captain's Merritt Beason and Lexi Rodriguez to really calm the team down and get them in a rhythm.

As I mentioned, the freshmen are a big part of this team. The Huskers have four in the starting lineup, and that's led by Big 10 Setter of the Year Bergen Reilly. She's looking this year to become the fourth freshman setter in history to lead her team to a championship. You're going to see a starting lineup between these two teams, where you have six freshmen in the starting lineup. So that's just going to be an interesting thing to watch and see really — who can settle into this big game atmosphere?

BONDERSON: It’s still a couple of wins away. But what would it mean for the Huskers to take home a sixth the national title?

LOHR: Regardless of what happens this weekend, this has been one of the most fun and memorable seasons in Husker history. Going back to August, you had 92,000 fans pack Memorial Stadium for a world record on Volleyball Day in Nebraska.

They went on to beat — at home — and reverse sweep Penn State. And then they won the Big 10 championship. So this is just a fun group to follow. And I think everyone's super invested. You're seeing this team accomplish all of these things with zero seniors and four freshmen. So it's just been incredible. John Cook has said this is just one of the closest teams he's coached when it comes to chemistry, and they're just playing fearlessly.

If they can get past Pittsburgh here in the semi final and get to the championship. They're looking to win their third national championship over the last nine years. And so as Kennedi Orr said, back in August on a post-it note, the impossible is possible.

BONDERSON: Thanks for your time, Brock. Have a good time over in Tampa and Husker nation will be watching from home.

LOHR: Thanks, Aaron. I really appreciate it.