Before the latest round of conference realignment, the Big 12 volleyball championship usually went through Austin or Lincoln, Nebraska.
Since the conference’s inception in 1996, Texas and Nebraska have a combined 17 conference titles and finished first and second eight times. And even after the Cornhuskers left for the Big Ten, the rivalry between the schools has continued.
“It’s always been crazy, and I think it’s just as big as when they were [in the Big 12],” junior outside hitter Amy Neal said.
The two top-10 teams will write a new chapter in the rivalry Saturday at 2 p.m. when they face off in Lincoln.
“It’s what makes this sport fun,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We get an opportunity to play one of the premier programs in the country.”
Overall, the stats show that Nebraska has dominated the rivalry. The Cornhuskers boast a 30-19 record over the Longhorns and took home 11 conference titles while they were in the Big 12.
In a stretch from 1994 to 2000, Nebraska beat Texas in 10 of 12 matches, including a 3-1 win in the 1995 national championship game. After Elliott was hired as the head coach in 2001, it took the Longhorns 10 matches to finally defeat the Cornhuskers.
“They used to eat our lunch pretty bad when I got here,” Elliott said.
But in recent years, the tide has turned. The Longhorns have won six of the past seven meetings. Last year in the regular season, Texas battled to a 3-2 win in Austin.
Then the rivalry went to the next level when the two faced off in the Lincoln Regional final with a Final Four spot on the line. Despite the Cornhuskers’ home-court advantage, the Longhorns managed to hand them a sweep.
“I’m sure they’re focused on trying to be able to redeem themselves,” Elliott said.
The trip to Lincoln is the second time in three weeks the Longhorns will face a top-tier team in a tough environment. On Sept. 6, they beat then No. 11 Florida in Gainesville. Elliott said he likes scheduling tough matches in the nonconference season to get his team ready for conference play and the postseason.
“We need to put our team in some environments that are chaotic and tough to play in, and Nebraska provides that,” Elliott said.
The No. 2 Longhorns (7-0) come into this meeting undefeated and having only dropped one of their 22 sets this year. Texas’ eight players with double-digit kills and six players with 30 or more kills have created a balanced and deep attack.
Neal said the deep lineup and tough competition has helped the team’s confidence this season.
“In our gym in practice, it’s super competitive, which makes everyone train really hard,” Neal said. “Knowing if someone is struggling, that another person can go in, it builds our confidence in our team.”
Despite its No. 9 ranking, Nebraska (5-2) dropped two matches to top-15 teams earlier this season against No. 6 Florida State and No. 1 Stanford. The Cornhuskers also have just one senior on a roster made up primarily of sophomores.
Still, this latest chapter in the rivalry will likely be the Longhorns’ toughest test so far this season.
“This match doesn’t determine whether our season ends or not,” Elliott said. “We can take this match and learn from it.”