The memories are rather fresh — and not the most pleasant.
The Penn State women’s volleyball team returns to the court in the NCAA regional semifinals at noon Friday, and will have to take down Nebraska to continue its season.
A tough task no matter where the match is played, but even tougher at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.
A mere 3 1/2 weeks ago, the Nittany Lions paid a visit and got swept 3-0, didn’t look very good in the match, and have lost three straight in the building.
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“We didn’t come out very confident and strong,” coach Russ Rose told reporters earlier this week about the Nov. 16 match. “Nebraska — they’re the defending national champions. They’re especially confident at home.”
The No. 16-seeded Nittany Lions (24-9) have lost four straight overall against the top-seeded Cornhuskers (29-2), but the Devaney Center can be especially tough. Nebraska leads the nation in attendance for a fourth straight season, averaging better than 8,200 per match, and its sea of red-clad fans are passionate.
“Playing at Nebraska is tough,” redshirt sophomore opposite Heidi Thelen said. “It’s a huge gym. There’s like, what, 8,000 people in there? And they’re all rooting against you. I think we learned that we have to start out strong.”
How each player deals with the crowd will determine how well they do.
“I think it’s fun,” sophomore libero Keeton Holcomb added. “I’ve always enjoyed playing there even though its, like, super hard.”
There are no guarantees, but the NCAA’s schedule for Friday could provide a slight muting of those difficult conditions. The first serve is set for 11 a.m. local time, when some students would be in class and local fans would be at work. It also means pre-match practices will have to take place very early in the morning for all four teams on site.
The Nittany Lions are not expecting the early start to quiet the crowd that much, however.
The second match of the day in Lincoln pits Arizona against Washington, with the winners meeting at 4 p.m. Saturday for a trip to the NCAA semifinals.
The match of Big Ten heavyweights also pits the only current Division I programs with players who know how to win national championships. Nebraska won the last one and Penn State took the two before that. How the freshmen handle the big stage may be a question mark, but the veterans know what’s at stake.
“The NCAA tournament is a whole different kind of pressure cooker for individuals,” Rose said. “Some people handle it well and can navigate those challenges, and some people get rattled.”
Although they lost in five sets, Rose’s team played much better at Rec Hall at the beginning of November. Division I’s winningest coach will be looking in a number of places to find inspiration and the right formula to win Friday.
“It’s how you play,” he said. “It’s the NCAA tournament. No excuses. Just go out there and play.”
What: NCAA regional semifinals, Friday
Who: No. 16 Penn State (24-9) at No. 1 Nebraska (29-2), noon; No. 8 Washington (28-4) vs. Arizona (20-14), 2:30 p.m.
Where: Devaney Center, Lincoln, Neb.
Radio: WRSC 1390
Regional finals: 4 p.m. Saturday