On the blog: See video from Friday night's confrontation between NU coach John Cook and Washington coach Jim McLaughlin.
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As he waited to board an airplane to return home Saturday afternoon, Nebraska coach John Cook said it still hadn't really sunk in that the Huskers don't have more volleyball to play in 2010.
Nebraska's season — which had been steadily building toward the anticipated crescendo of a final four appearance in Kansas City — was derailed in stunning fashion late Friday night in Seattle.
Host Washington — unseeded but ranked No. 11 in the latest AVCA poll — battled past Cook's second-seeded and third-ranked Huskers 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 29-27 in an emotionally charged NCAA regional semifinal. The Huskies rode the energy of their rambunctious 5,624 fans and knocked off a surging Nebraska team that had swept 10 straight matches since the end of October.
It was one of the most intense contests played in the history of Nebraska's program — and without question it featured the most bizarre kind of post-match fireworks.
During a pivotal rally late in set four, Nebraska was convinced that a Washington attack — which was ruled in by the line judge — landed well out of bounds. Then Cook and Huskies coach Jim McLaughlin had to be separated after a heated exchange following the match.
But lost perhaps in all the controversy are two harsh realities for the Huskers: One, this goes down as the team's earliest postseason exit in seven years. Two, this marks the end of the line for NU's four standout seniors — Tara Mueller, Sydney Anderson, Kayla Banwarth and Lindsey Licht — who all were convinced they were destined to finish their careers in Kansas City.
Still, Cook said Saturday, the Huskers have no reason to hang their heads after falling short of their goal.
“I told this team that we did everything we could — we maxed out,” Cook said. “You're not going to win every match, and things aren't going to always go your way. But I'm convinced, since January, these players did everything they could do. We were in a tough match last night. We had our chances, and we just couldn't finish — and that's the way it goes sometimes.
“I'm really pleased as a coach with this group and how hard they worked. They did everything asked of them, and they had a great year.”
When asked about his confrontation with McLaughlin, Cook stuck by his account he offered late Friday night.
“Apparently (McLaughlin) was upset about something,'' Cook told reporters after the match. “I told him, ‘Nice match,' and told him the ball was out. He got upset.”
McLaughlin had to be physically restrained from following Cook off the court. After the match, the Washington coach repeatedly refused to talk about the incident.
Cook on Saturday said he still was surprised McLaughlin reacted the way he did.
“I was not anticipating anything like that,” Cook said. “It seemed like it could've escalated into something pretty serious. Once I kind of saw what was happening, I just walked away to the locker room. It was unfortunate, because we certainly weren't trying to do anything to cause a reaction.”
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne attended Friday's match, and Cook said he talked with Osborne about the incident.
“I think Coach Osborne was upset kind of with the whole evening,” Cook said. “The way it went, the way the game was officiated, and then of course the end. He left me a message this morning from Denver that he feels bad and that he's there to support us if we want to do anything. I don't know what to do — we're waiting to see what the NCAA championship committee is going to do, because this was not a good reflection (of college volleyball).”
Early Saturday morning, more than an hour after the match ended, NCAA officials who were working the Seattle regional released a statement that the situation was being reviewed to determine if any further action should be taken.
Nebraska, which ends the season with a 29-3 record, hadn't been eliminated in the third round of the NCAA tournament since 2003, when UCLA topped the Huskers.
Mueller, Anderson, Banwarth and Licht all were starters for the Huskers' 2008 team that made it to the final four and came a few points short of knocking off Penn State. The seniors helped Nebraska go 115-15 since 2007.
“That's the hard part about it for the team and especially our seniors — you're anticipating playing again today (in the regional final) and again next week (in the final four),” Cook said. “Then it's all over just like that. It happens so fast. But that's sports. Our kids really care about this — that was really clear after the match in the locker room. Nebraska volleyball really matters to them, and that makes it hurt even more. We're really proud of them.”
With the loss still fresh, Cook said it's difficult to shift gears and start thinking about 2011. But that's the challenge that awaits — and Cook said any time the program falls short of its ultimate goal of winning an NCAA title, players are expected to use that disappointment as fuel.
The four seniors will be badly missed, Cook said, but the team is set to return a large cast of contributors. They are middle blockers Brooke Delano, Jordan Wilberger and Allison McNeal; outside hitters Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth; setter Lauren Cook; and right-side hitter Morgan Broekhuis.
The Huskers in 2011 also will add three touted freshmen to their roster in 6-foot-3 outside hitter Taylor Simpson; 5-10 libero Lara Dykstra and 5-9 defensive specialist Shelby Winkelmann.
“We have four great seniors, but I think we also have some great underclassmen,” John Cook said. “I think we have a chance to be really good next year.”
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