Action begins Friday, Dec. 1, at the NU Coliseum when the Winthrop Eagles of the Big South Conference (34-2) take on the Northern Iowa Panthers of the Missouri Valley Conference (27-7) at 5 p.m. Nebraska (27-1) will play in the evening’s second match and will take on the American University Eagles of the Patriot League (25-6) beginning at 7 p.m. or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first match. The second round will take place on Saturday, Dec. 2, at 5 p.m., as Friday’s winners will square off for a right to compete in the Gainesville Regional.
Tickets for the first and second rounds in Lincoln are already sold out and the four predetermined regional sites for 2006 are Gainesville, Fla. (Florida), Austin, Texas (Texas), Seattle Wash. (Washington) and Honolulu, Hawaii (Hawaii). The 2006 NCAA Championships will take place in Omaha at the Qwest Center, which has been sold out since January.
The 2006 season marks the 22nd time that Lincoln has played host to first and second-round competition. Last year, Nebraska hosted the first and second rounds at the NU Coliseum before winning the Omaha Regional en route to a national finals appearance. Nebraska is 64-22 (.744) in 24 previous NCAA Tournament appearances, ranking second among NCAA schools in wins and winning percentage.
The Huskers were one of six Big 12 schools to qualify for the tournament. In addition to the Huskers, Texas was the No. 6 seed overall and is joined in the tournament by No. 13 Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa State and Missouri.
The Huskers, who earned the Big 12’s automatic berth with a 19-1 conference record, is led by Big 12 Player of the Year Sarah Pavan, a two-time AVCA first-team All-American who leads the Big 12 with 5.22 kills per game and is hitting .311 on the season. NU also features outside hitter Jordan Larson (4.23 kills and 3.40 digs per game), middle blocker Tracy Stalls (2.67 kills and 1.40 blocks per game, .430 hitting pct), libero Dani Busboom (5.05 digs/gm) and setter Rachel Holloway (13.56 assists and 2.66 digs per game). Nebraska is 17-0 at home and has a 52-match home winning streak dating back to 2004.
American is making its sixth straight NCAA Tournament appearance and eighth overall after winning the Patriot League title. The Eagles, who traveled to Lincoln for the first round last season, are led by outside hitter Rubena Sukaj, who was the Patriot League Player of the Year after averaging 5.14 kills per game.
Northern Iowa makes its first NCAA appearance since 2003 and 12th overall next weekend after sweeping the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and touranament titles. The Panthers are led by a trio of All-MVC selections in setter Kristin Belzung (11.92 assists per game), middle blocker Trista Humpal (2.62 kills and 1.46 blocks per game) and outside hitter Laura Rowen (3.60 kills and 3.06 digs per game)
Winthrop makes its fifth consecutive appearance under Papillion, Neb., native Joel McCartney, who coached at Bellevue University from 1996-2000. The Eagles are led by middle blocker Taryn Surbaugh, who earned Big South Player of the Year honors after averaging 3.82 kills and 1.44 blocks per game while hitting .398.
Friday, Dec. 1
Northern Iowa (27-7) vs. Winthrop (34-2) -- 5 p.m.
American (25-6) vs. Nebraska (27-1) -- 7 p.m. (or 30 minutes following match 1)
Saturday, Dec. 2
Friday's Winners -- 5 p.m. (Winner advances to Gainesville Regional)
Coach Head Coach John Cook
"Our first worry was whether we would be at home, and get to play at the Coliseum again. So that certainly was a relief to see that come up, that we get to be at home for the first and second rounds. What's so important about that is really that our players don't have to miss class time, because we know that if we do advance, our players will miss class time leading into finals. That takes a lot of stress off of our team right there. I think there is going to be a lot of interesting teams (we'll be hosting). I know American is the tallest team in the country, so that will be interesting. Northern Iowa is traditionally a great program, and Winthrop is coached by Joel McCartney, who coached at Bellevue in Omaha. There will be a lot of good stories this week."
On being the No. 1 seed for the third straight year
"I hadn't even thought of that until they mentioned it. I think it's just a reflection of how consistent we've been as a program. That our players are working all year round to put themselves in that position, and it's something we should be really proud of. It is an amazing accomplishment."
On the No. 1 seed and hosting for the first and second rounds
"Every draw is all going to come down to match-ups, and who's hot and who's playing well. The good thing is that travel-wise, we're in a good situation. Being at home (for the first and second rounds) is really important. I think that when you look at a draw, being home is about as good as it can get. I don't think us being at home had anything to do with us sweeping Texas (in the final regular season game) or our regular season. It comes down to geography, and essentially that they try to get some clusters to try to eliminate these flights."
On knowing all the places Nebraska will have to go to get to Omaha
"Now that we know what our path is, and we know what we have to do. Now what we know what we're playing for. We know our route to get to Omaha, and we know what we have to do to get there. Our team knows what we have to do to get this, and I think we're going to embrace it, and play some great volleyball."
On the team playing its best volleyball of the season at this point
"We had to replace three great players from last year, and even though we were inconsistent at times in the beginning of the season, I think it's really coming together now. (Senior libero) Dani Busboom is really becoming a leader at libero, our freshmen are becoming more comfortable, and I think (senior outside hitter) Dani Mancuso has realized that if she makes big plays, we're a great team. It is really coming together for them now, and I think that's what you want as a coach. There's no magic formula, but it's the path they're on, and that's what I want to see."