LINCOLN — Airplane miles and hotel room points aren’t the only things the Stanford volleyball team has been racking up during its nonconference schedule.
After two cross-country trips that totaled almost 10,000 miles through the air, the Cardinal have also amassed three wins against opponents ranked in the top 10. Stanford wraps up its early-season journey at No. 1 Nebraska on Wednesday night.
“They’re ready to go home,” Stanford coach Kevin Hambly said. “They are really excited for the (Nebraska) match, but no one loves living out of a suitcase. I’m ready to go home and see my kids a little bit more and my wife.”
The Cardinal (5-1) opened up the season with two matches in Charleston, South Carolina, before going to Gainesville, Florida, for a midweek game against No. 7 Florida.
Stanford spent a few days at home and earned a win against No. 3 Texas before returning to the Eastern Time Zone for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. The Cardinal took down No. 4 Penn State in four sets in front of 5,178 fans on Friday. The next night, the Cardinal fell to No. 8 Minnesota in four sets.
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After playing Nebraska, Stanford hosts BYU, which gave the Cardinal their only loss last season, on Saturday.
The tough schedule could also help the Cardinal earn a better seed in the NCAA tournament as road matches against great opponents only help their RPI and strength of schedule regardless of the outcome. Once the NCAA went away from predetermined regional sites, teams began to schedule more aggressively in hopes that it would help them earn a second weekend of home games.
Hambly, who is in his third year at Stanford after coaching at Illinois, said he isn’t focused on their record, but rather the experience of playing in big matches that will help his team develop and expose any weaknesses.
“We wanted to see the teams that we think will be in the mix at the end,” he said. “Our eye is always toward December. It’s not about the Pac-12. It’s not about now. It’s much more about what gets us ready for December.”
The extended travel schedule is possible because Stanford is on the quarter system and doesn’t start fall classes until Sept 23. Hambly said the road trips are better than spending time in the dorms and allow the team to bond more.
This year marked the end of a four-year contract Stanford had with Penn State, Illinois and Minnesota. The Cardinal played PSU five times in that span and the other two teams twice.
Next year, Stanford starts up a series with Nebraska, Kentucky and Louisville. Including this year’s matchup, the Huskers and Stanford will play regular-season matches five years in a row. Hambly said top teams should play more often because it is great for the fans.
“These are two of the most storied programs in the history of NCAA volleyball,” he said. “It makes sense for us to play.”
A small controversy popped up after the national championship match in December when a photo from Stanford’s locker room was posted on social media showing a hand-drawn gun pointed at NU mascot Herbie Husker on a whiteboard. Both coaches disregarded the incident and said they haven’t talked about it much since.
Hambly said he hoped to do a community project with NU players as a show of unity but couldn’t get it to work out with the Huskers' class schedules. He said the Cardinal often volunteer in communities they visit, but they haven’t ever done it with players from another team.
Nebraska coach John Cook said he has total respect for Stanford and is looking forward to playing once again.
“It’s great competition,” Cook said. “It’s an honor to play them. They are one of the premier programs. It’s great for college volleyball.”