LINCOLN — For the Huskers, playing at the Devaney Center in Friday's NCAA tournament opener was like coming home after your brother-in-law housesits for the weekend.
Coach John Cook said the tournament's procedures took away some of NU's home-court habits and left the team's 10 newcomers in a bit of a fog at the start of the match.
“Just something about when you go to the NCAA tournament, everything's different,” Cook said. “There was a different announcer, you have all these protocols you have to do. I can't have 'Aquafina' (label) on the bottle. The ladies over here from UNO are telling us what we can and can't do when we can practice. It throws everybody kind of in a little tizzy when you're not used to it being a normal home match. Those freshmen were a little tight tonight.”
NU rebounded to record its fifth consecutive sweep in the tournament's opening round.
“I know for me, it was the first time, so you got a little bit of jitters at the beginning,” freshman opposite hitter Amber Rolfzen said. “But it was good to just get all that out and get ready for the next match.”
Ducks rolling with setter back
Oregon's three-set win over Miami Friday was the Ducks' sixth win in a row, and it's no surprise the run started with the return of All-America setter Lauren Plum.
Plum, who has been Oregon's starting setter for four seasons, suffered a midfoot sprain and bone bruise when stepping on an opponent's foot under the net during a loss at Arizona in early October. The injury kept Plum out for several weeks of the Pac-12 season.
But with Plum back running Oregon's 5-1 offense, the Ducks settled on their current lineup at the start of their six-match winning streak. Things are starting to click for last year's national runners-up, said coach Jim Moore.
“This is the only time we've had this lineup intact really the whole year,” Moore said. “We had things a little different when we started when (Plum) wasn't hurt.
“When you take someone who's set every single match for 3Ĺ years, and you pull them out, it disrupts things. It took a little bit when she got back, took a little bit for people to figure out what their roles were.”
Ducks excited for rematch
When the NCAA brackets were unveiled last weekend, the prospect of a second-round showdown between Nebraska and Oregon immediately became one of the most intriguing matches of the opening weekend.
Both Oregon and Nebraska lost several players from last season's meeting in the Omaha regional final, which the Ducks won 3-1 to advance to the Final Four for the first time in program history. But after Friday's matches, Oregon players said the chance at a rematch still added an extra bit of excitement to the postseason.
“When we played them last year, it was a really fun match,” said All-Pac-12 outside hitter Liz Brenner, who had nine kills and 18 digs against Nebraska last season. “The entire building was all red. We had our little 40-person Oregon section. But it was a lot of fun to play in front of, for sure. The fans here are awesome. I think it's going to be a really good volleyball game.”
Nebraska figures to enter Saturday's rematch with at least five new starters from last season. Sophomore middle blocker Meghan Haggerty and senior opposite hitter Morgan Broekhuis are the only Huskers who played against the Ducks in 2012, but neither started Friday in Nebraska's win over Fairfield.
“I think this Nebraska team is a little bit of a newer team. They graduated a lot of their starters, but so did we,” Plum said. “It's kind of the old rivalry, but at the same time, it's kind of a new one.”
Brenner powers Oregon offense
Brenner had 20 kills and hit .319 in Oregon's win over Miami on Friday, and was hot from the opening serve.
Brenner, who led the Pac-12 this season with 4.97 kills per set in conference play, had eight kills in the first set against the Hurricanes.
“I think it's a big part just that it's tournament time. We were all hyped up and ready to go,” Brenner said. “We came out really strong in that first set, and everyone was doing their job. When everyone does their job, it makes it really easy for you to execute and get points.”
The Ducks' quick-tempo offense and weapons like Brenner make Oregon similar to Big Ten teams Nebraska has faced this year, Cook said. NU spent a couple of days of practice this week game-planning for Oregon, and after ending NU's season last year, the Ducks have Nebraska's full attention.
“They're a great team,” Cook said. “Plum's a great setter. Brenner, she gets the job done. It's gonna be a big test for us, and they're playing well. They play a really fast game, so it's going to be 180 degrees from what we saw tonight. But we prepared hard for them this week.”