LINCOLN — For all their accomplishments — 123 wins in five seasons — none of the Huskers have a championship ring in Nebraska.
And the main reason why — Wisconsin — will be on the other side of the net Friday, trying again to stop the Huskers from winning a championship.
No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 5 Nebraska play at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
It’s the third time in 12 months that the programs will play in a match for the championship. Last year, teams played for the Big Ten title in the final week of the regular season. The Badgers won in four sets to finish a match ahead of the Huskers and win their third straight conference crown.
Three weeks later, Wisconsin beat NU in five sets to win the program’s first national championship.
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And now the penultimate game of the year will help determine the Big Ten winner. The Huskers have to defeat the Badgers and No. Beat 9 Minnesota to claim the crown.
“We’ve been working to get to that point since January, to have this opportunity to compete for a Big Ten championship,” said coach John Cook. “The team worked hard and the staff worked really hard. We have to tackle it. That will be fun for our fans.”
Going 24-3 overall and 16-2 in the Big Ten, Nebraska’s losses have come at the top 10 teams — Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Huskers have had a tough time playing seven of nine games away, but the reward now comes with three straight home games to wrap up the regular season.
“We gave ourselves an opportunity to play for the Big Ten championship this weekend, which is really cool,” senior Madi Kubik said.
The Big Ten game goal list pits top-10 teams that Cook said BTN helped create. Last season, the UW-NU game set a record with 375,000 viewers on BTN.
“It’s all Big Ten, and Big Ten (Network) made it up,” Cook said. “That’s one of the reasons they’re taking so long to get the schedule out because I think they’re trying to figure out how they’re going to do it all and try to make it a big weekend.”
The Nebraska seniors — Nicklin Hames, Kenzie Knuckles and Kubik — have been capable of winning championships and coming back narrowly, including twice in the national championship game for Hames.
“These guys need a ring, whether it’s a Big Ten or a national championship ring,” Cook said. “That’s kind of the only thing left on the table that they need to pursue.”
To do that, Nebraska will need to make an about-face after their 25-23, 25-23, 25-18 loss to the Badgers on Oct. 26.
“We have to find a way to win some close games against top teams. That’s what matters,” Cook said.
Overall, Wisconsin has won nine straight games against Nebraska in five seasons.
One of the areas that held the Huskers back in the first game was receiving serves, which was uncharacteristic of them.
“We didn’t handle it very well, so we’ve got to get better if we’re going to have a chance,” Cook said.
Knuckles is confident Nebraska’s pass will be better this time around.
“We know exactly what they’re going to do, so honestly it’s just a mentality to go inside them and do it and be aggressive with what we’re doing,” Knuckles said.
The Badgers roll into Lincoln on a 16-game winning streak. Their only Big Ten loss came in their second league game, a win against Minnesota.
Cook says his team needs to be better on offense and not allow as many long runs. But the players – and fans – know the Badgers lineup well.
In the first match against the Huskers, Sarah Franklin hit 21 outside kills with a .385 batting average. Devyn Robinson added nine kills.
“We can’t let Franklin get 21 kills, so that’s a good start,” Cook said. “And they know that. And we can’t let Robinson bounce balls at us. We don’t even have to talk about names. You know.”
Photos: Nebraska volleyball meets Purdue