LINCOLN — A doubleheader with one of college volleyball’s national powers and a grueling stretch to open Big Ten play highlight the Nebraska volleyball schedule that was released Monday.
Coach John Cook’s retooled lineup, which must replace four starters from a year ago, will get its mettle tested early and often against a slate that features half of the Huskers’ 30 matches being played against teams that made the NCAA tournament last season.
NU will open the 2017 season at the VERT Challenge, played this year in Gainesville, Fla., against Oregon and the host team, Florida. The Huskers, who will host the four-team tournament next season, avoid a final four rematch against Texas, another VERT Challenge participant, after meeting the Longhorns in the tournament each of the past two years. It will be the first time since 2012 that Nebraska and Texas will not play in the regular season.
The Huskers open their home schedule at the Devaney Center playing three matches in two days at the Ameritas Players Challenge Sept. 1-2 against Oral Roberts, Saint Mary’s and Maryland-Baltimore County.
The next weekend, Nebraska resumes what once was a frequent series with UCLA by playing the Bruins on both Friday, Sept. 8 and Saturday, Sept. 9 at the Devaney Center. NU and UCLA met eight times from 2000-12, but haven’t faced off since the Huskers knocked off No. 1 UCLA in five games in 2012 at the NU Coliseum.
The Bruins fell one win shy of the final four last season, losing to Minnesota 3-0 in the regional final.
Nebraska ends the non-conference slate with three matches at the Omaha Challenge at Baxter Arena, playing UNO for the first time since the Mavericks moved up to Division I. NU also will face 2016 NCAA tournament teams Kansas State and Northern Iowa in Omaha. Noticeably absent from Nebraska’s nonconference schedule this year is a match against Creighton. The Huskers and Bluejays will not play this season after playing either a regular season match or spring exhibition each of the last four years.
To defend its Big Ten championship, Nebraska will have to weather a rough opening stretch with five of its first seven league matches coming against teams that made the sweet 16 last season.
In the first month of conference play, NU will travel to Penn State (Sept. 22) for the teams’ lone match of the year, host Minnesota (Sept. 29) and Michigan State (Oct. 4), and play Wisconsin twice (Sept. 30 in Lincoln and Oct. 11 in Madison).
The Huskers also will host Illinois, led by new head coach and former NU assistant Chris Tamas, in the teams’ only regular season meeting on Oct. 21. Other home matches are against Northwestern (Oct. 20), Purdue (Nov. 3), Indiana (Nov. 4), Maryland (Nov. 8), Rutgers (Nov. 11), and the regular-season finale with Iowa (Nov. 25).
Before closing with the Hawkeyes, Nebraska will go on the road for three matches in six days at Ohio State (Nov. 17), Maryland (Nov. 18), and Northwestern (Nov. 22).
The NCAA tournament begins with first and second-round matches played at campus sites from Nov. 30-Dec. 2, and the four regionals will again be played at sites hosted by the highest remaining seeds Dec. 8-9.
If Nebraska is able to reach a third consecutive final four, NU fans won’t have far to travel. This year’s final four will be in Kansas City, Mo., Dec. 14-16, played at the Sprint Center, which also hosted the final four in 2010.
2017-18 Nebraska volleyball schedule
April 22: Colorado State (exhibition at Kearney High), 3 p.m.
>> Aug. 25: Oregon
>> Aug. 26: Florida
Ameritas Players Challenge
>> Sept. 1: Oral Roberts/St. Mary’s/UMBC
>> Sept. 2: Oral Roberts/St. Mary’s/UMBC
>> Sept. 15: Kansas State, 4:30 p.m.
>> Sept. 16: Northern Iowa, noon
>> Sept. 16 UNO, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 22: at Penn State
Sept. 23: at Rutgers
Sept. 29: Minnesota
Sept. 30: Wisconsin
Oct. 4: Michigan State
Oct. 7: at Iowa
Oct. 11: at Wisconsin
Oct. 14: at Purdue
Oct. 20: Northwestern
Oct. 21: Illinois
Oct. 27: at Michigan State
Oct. 28: at Michigan
Nov. 3: Purdue
Nov. 4: Indiana
Nov. 8: Maryland
Nov. 11: Rutgers
Nov. 17: at Ohio State
Nov. 18: Maryland
Nov. 22: Northwestern
Nov. 25: Iowa