Omaha hosts four teams for the NCAA volleyball tournament. Here’s a capsule preview of the teams. Also, check out a photo showcase from Thursday’s practice sessions.
Coach: John Cook (13th season)
Rank and NCAA seed: No. 10; No. 4
NCAA appearance: 31st
Big hitters: Gina Mancuso (3.43 kills per set), Hannah Werth (3.07 kps), Morgan Broekhuis (2.68 kps)
Top blockers: Hayley Thramer (1.19 blocks per set), Meghan Haggerty (0.96 bps)
Leading diggers: Werth (3.19 digs per set), Lara Dykstra (3.03 dps), Lauren Cook (2.78 dps)
The setter: Cook (11.12 assists per set)
Honor roll: Mancuso, Werth, and Cook all earned first-team All-Big Ten honors this season, while Haggerty was named to the league’s All-Freshman team. Balance is key as Nebraska is without a dominant attacker and will need multiple options playing well to reach the Final Four.
Fast fact: The Huskers lack the gaudy statistics of the other three teams in the Omaha Regional, but should be helped by playing in front of a large, partisan crowd at the CenturyLink Center. Nebraska is 5-2 all-time in NCAA tournament matches played in the building, winning a regional title there in 2005 and capturing the school’s third national championship in 2006. The Huskers most recently played Washington in the 2010 regional semifinals in Seattle, losing 3-1.
Coach: Jim McLaughlin (12th season)
Rank and NCAA seed: No. 5; No. 13
NCAA appearance: 17th
Big hitters: Krista Vansant (4.00 kills per set), Kaleigh Nelson (2.45 kps), Kylin Munoz (2.29 kps)
Top blockers: Amanda Gil (1.81 blocks per set), Munoz (1.22 bps)
Leading diggers: Jenna Orlandini (4.13 digs per set), Vansant (2.33 dps), Cassie Strickland (2.28 dps)
The setters: Katie Beals (5.74 assists per set), Jenni Nogueras (5.40 aps)
Honor roll: Vansant was named first-team All-Pac-12 with Munoz being named honorable mention All-Conference. Somehow, Gil was left off the conference honor list despite leading the nation with 1.81 blocks per set.
Fast facts: The Huskies are statistically the nation’s best blocking team, leading the country with 3.36 blocks per set. The intimidating block starts with Gil, a 6-6 senior who played her first two seasons at UCLA before transferring to Washington. Gil had a school-record 15 block assists in the Huskies’ five-set loss at USC on Oct. 26. That broke the record of 14 blocks she put up in a loss to Oregon on Oct. 13.
Coach: Jim Moore (8th season)
Rank and NCAA seed: No. 6; No. 5
NCAA appearance: 9th
Big hitters: Alaina Bergsma (4.92 kps), Liz Brenner (3.86 kps), Katherine Fischer (2.66 kps)
Top blockers: Canace Finley (0.76 bps), Ariana Williams (0.69 bps)
Leading diggers: Haley Jacob (4.37 dps), Fischer (2.49 dps), Brenner (2.44 dps)
The setter: Lauren Plum (13.26 aps)
Honor roll: Moore feels this is his best Oregon team ever and the Pac-12 honors bear it out. Bergsma was named the league’s player of the year after leading the Pac-12 in kills. Plum, who leads the nation in assists per game, was named the conference setter of the year. Brenner joined the two on the All-Pac-12 team.
Fast facts: Oregon brings perhaps the country’s top offense to Omaha orchestrated by one of the nation’s top setters in Plum. The Ducks lead the nation in kills with 15.94 per set. That’s more than a kill per set better than the next highest mark. Oregon was second in the Pac-12 and ninth nationally with a .295 attack percentage. The Ducks finished a school-best second in the Pac-12 behind Stanford and are looking for the program’s first Final Four appearance.
Coach: Shawn Olmstead (2nd season)
Rank and NCAA seed: No. 16; No. 12
NCAA appearance: 24th
Big hitters: Jennifer Hamson (4.07 kps), Alexa Gray (3.31 kps), Kimberly Dahl (2.16 kps)
Top blockers: Nicole Warner (1.81 bps), Hamson (1.27 bps)
Leading diggers: Ciara Parker (3.46 dps), Tia Withers (3.24 dps)
The setter: Heather Hannemann (11.19 aps)
Honor roll: BYU dominated the West Coast Conference honors in 2012. Hamson, a 6-foot-7 opposite hitter, was named the league’s player of the year, while outside hitter/middle blocker Gray was the WCC’s freshman of the year. Warner, who tied Washington’s Gil with a nation-leading 1.81 blocks per set, won a share of the conference’s defensive player of the year honor. The Cougars’ setter, Hannemann, was honorable mention All-WCC, and Oltman was named the league’s top coach.
Fast facts: BYU got off to a fast start this season by winning its first 15 matches. The Cougars are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 and didn’t drop a set in their first two matches with sweeps of New Mexico State and Oklahoma. BYU’s .313 team hitting percentage is second in the country behind only Texas (.320).
– Jeff Sheldon