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'This is why you come to Nebraska:' After early slide, Huskers have shot to win Big Ten title

'This is why you come to Nebraska:' After early slide, Huskers have shot to win Big Ten title

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Penn State vs. Nebraska, 11.19

Nebraska’s Madi Kubik (left) and Lauren Stivrins (26) celebrate the Huskers' come-from-behind win in the second set over Penn State last Friday at the Devaney Sports Center.

In Big Ten Conference volleyball, there isn’t a true championship match.

That differs from football, which has a conference title game, and several other sports that have league tournaments.

Some Big Ten volleyball coaches will tell you every match for 10 weeks is like a championship match.

This season, though, there is an unofficial championship match, and Nebraska is in it.

The Big Ten season is down to the final two days, and the winner of Friday’s match between No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 11 Nebraska will clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title. The 4:30 p.m. match in Madison will be on BTN.

The Badgers and Huskers go into Friday tied for first place in the league standings.

“We got a shot,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “This is what every coach and team dreams for. We got a shot to win a Big Ten championship this week, and we got to give it everything we got.”

The Wisconsin-Nebraska winner will have a chance to capture the outright championship with a victory the following night.

If the Badgers and Huskers split their two matches this weekend, Purdue can grab a share of the Big Ten title by winning its final two matches. There is no tiebreaker for the league title.

After Friday’s match, Nebraska plays at No. 6 Purdue on Saturday. Purdue beating Wisconsin twice this season is why Nebraska is still a contender.

While Nebraska faces a major challenge playing the Badgers in Madison, the Huskers at least don’t have to watch from a distance and hope another team can beat the Badgers for them.

“We got a chance to control our own destiny,” Cook said.

Nebraska kept itself in position to play for the title by beating No. 15 Penn State last week.

Two months ago it may not have looked like Nebraska would be in this position after it lost three straight matches entering the Big Ten season. But Nebraska recovered, got some help with the return of Lauren Stivrins, and won 10 straight matches to start conference play.

“After those three matches we just came back into the gym and we were like, ‘OK, we have a choice to make. We can be sad and say, ‘I hate this,’” Nebraska outside hitter Madi Kubik said. “Instead I think we took it as a challenge and we tried to get better every single week and I think that’s showed.”

Nebraska goes into Friday’s match with a shot of confidence after playing one of its best matches of the season in a 25-15, 25-23, 25-23 win against Penn State.

“That first (set against Penn State) was one of the best (sets) I’ve seen in 20 years of how we played,” Cook said. “I mean, we were almost flawless.”

Nebraska beat Penn State for the 11th time in the past 12 matches, and what it has done against Penn State is similar to what the Badgers have done to NU lately.

Wisconsin has won six straight matches against Nebraska on the strength of its super-senior class led by middle blocker Dana Rettke and setter Sydney Hilley. Each of the past four matches have been sweeps.

The Badgers beat Nebraska 26-24, 25-19, 25-23 last month in Lincoln.

It’s those two close sets that give Nebraska hope that they can top the Badgers in the rematch.

“We were not our best that night by any means,” Stivrins said. “And any aspect of the game that’s just not how we’ve been playing and training. The fact that we lost two of those sets by two points, and we were playing in our eyes very poorly, we’re definitely excited for this matchup and excited to see what team shows up. We’ll see.”

In the first match against the Badgers, Nebraska’s serving wasn’t the weapon it needed to be to slow down a great offense. The Huskers had no ace serves and seven errors. Nebraska also wasn’t solid enough in serve-receive.

Nebraska playing two matches on the road this weekend against top-10 teams is a major challenge. But the Huskers have a chance, and they’ll take it.

“This is why you come to Nebraska,” Cook said. “We want to play for championships.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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