It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was seasons of light, it was seasons of darkness. It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. We had everything before us, we had nothing before us. We were all going direct to playoffs, we were all going direct the other way …
As 10th-ranked Texas hosts second-ranked Nebraska tonight at Gregory Gym, much more than standings and playoff consequences lie at stake. With the Cornhuskers deciding this summer to head to the Big Ten for the 2011-12 season, tonight’s match marks the last time these two storied powerhouses face off with conference implications.
Since Texas joined the NCAA in 1982, the two teams have played each other in all but two seasons.
In 1995, Texas and Nebraska found themselves in the NCAA Championship game. The Cornhuskers outlasted the Longhorns in four sets, becoming only the second school east of California to win a national championship. The first was Texas in 1988.
The following year, the four Texas teams of the Southwest Conference joined the teams of the Big Eight Conference to form the Big 12. With the exception of 2003, the conference’s volleyball title has gone to either Texas or Nebraska every single year, with the former winning four and the latter 11 — including co-winning the 2007 and 2008 titles.
For the most part, the Cornhuskers have been on the winning side of the rivalry. They have posted a 30-16 all-time record against the Longhorns. Texas is also second to Nebraska in the conference in national titles, number of All-Americans, winning percentage, total wins and average attendance.
The rivalry has tilted more in Texas’ favor recently, as it’s won five of the last seven matchups. Last year, the Longhorns became the first team to ever beat the Cornhuskers three times in one season, including snapping the Cornhuskers’ 82-match home winning streak.
“It’s a special rivalry and something that has been created over time,” said Texas head coach Jerritt Elliott. “When we got here, there wasn’t much of a rivalry. Then, our program was able to build, and we started playing better against them. When you have two teams that every year are contending for a final four or national championship, it’s obvious you’re going to have a rivalry.”
Elliott said the Longhorns will continue to try to schedule games with Nebraska every year. He and Nebraska head coach John Cook took over their respective programs one year apart and were challenged to maintain winning traditions. The two also consistently haul in top five or top 10 recruiting classes, with some players making their final decision between the two schools.
“We’d like to play Texas in the future and possibly even next year,” Cook said. “The matches have been great each time we play and there has been lots of interest surrounding each match.”
The Longhorns will look to bounce back from their loss to the Cornhuskers earlier this month in Lincoln. First serve is set for 8 p.m. and the match will be broadcast live on ESPNU.
Senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette, who was recruited by Nebraska, said the team has been anticipating this game for some time. Faucette said her first peek into the rivalry was when she was a high school junior on a recruiting visit to Texas in 2005. Texas beat Nebraska in a wild, five-set match that ended the Cornhuskers’ six-year, 12-game winning streak against the Longhorns and marked the first victory against the Huskers for Elliott.
“It’s going to be a great game,” Faucette said. “I definitely love being at their place and them coming here, and their fans are great over there. We’ll miss them in our conference.”
Elliott said the match will be a great test as the teams start thinking about postseason.
“It’s a fun rivalry, and it’s what’s made this relationship between Nebraska and Texas volleyball so special,” Elliott said. “Their team gets fired up and so does ours. It’s a great test for both of our teams at this time of the year as we prepare for the NCAA playoffs here in a couple of weeks.”
There was a team with a large fan base and a coach determined to win, on the throne of Austin; there was a team with a large fan base and a coach determined to win, on the throne of Lincoln. In both cities it was clearer than crystal … that things in general were to be settled forever.