Action begins Friday, Dec. 3, at the NU Coliseum when the Wichita State Shockers of the Missouri Valley Conference (24-5 record) take on the Nevada Wolfpack of the Western Athletic Conference (21-9) at 5 p.m. Nebraska (27-1) will play in the evening's second match and will take on the Iona Gaels of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (19-15) beginning at 7 p.m. or 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first match. The second round will take place on Saturday, Dec. 4. Friday's winners will square off for a right to compete in the Louisville Regional. Tickets for the first and second rounds in Lincoln are already sold out.
In addition to Louisville, Minneapolis, Green Bay and Seattle are the other NCAA regional host cities, as sites were predetermined before the start of the season.
The 2004 season marks the 20th time that Lincoln has played host to first and second-round competition and the first since the 2002 season. Last year, the Huskers traveled to East Lansing, Mich., for the first two round before returning to the NU Coliseum for regionals. Nebraska is 56-20 (.737) in 22 previous NCAA Tournament appearances, ranking third among NCAA schools in wins and fourth in winning percentage. Iona and Wichita State are making their NCAA Tournament debuts, while 2004 will mark Nevada's fourth NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Huskers were one of seven Big 12 schools to qualify for the tournament, equaling the Big Ten for the most school selected. In addition to the Huskers, Texas (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 16) were seeded among the top-16 teams, while Texas A&M, Kansas State, Kansas and Colorado all earned at-large bids.
The Huskers, who clinched the Big 12's automatic berth with a 20-0 conference record and the 26th conference title in school history, is led by All-American middle blocker Melissa Elmer, who leads the nation with 1.93 blocks per game and is hitting a team-best .354. Big 12 Freshman of the Year Sarah Pavan tops the Huskers in kills with 4.50 per game and is one of five Huskers who average at least 2.80 kills per game. Nebraska has won its last 24 matches and is 12-0 against nationally ranked teams this season.
Iona is making its first-ever NCAA appearance after defeating Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament title game. The Gaels are led by Miki Hogg, who was named the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year, after avering .3.62 kills per game.
Nevada, which lost to undefeated Hawaii in the WAC title game on Nov. 21, has made three previous NCAA appearances (1998-2001-2002) and is 21-9 overall with three of the its losses coming at the hands of the Rainbow Wahine. The Wolfpack is led by middle blocker Salaia Salave`a, a first-team All-WAC selection who averages a team-high 4.93 kills along with 2.72 digs and 1.43 blocks per game.
Wichita State comes to Lincoln after defeating Southwest Missouri State in five games Saturday night in the MVC title game. The Shockers, 24-5 on the season, are led by Sara Younes, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year who ranks among the national leaders with 70 service aces while also averaging a team-best 2.94 kills per game.
Friday, Dec. 3
Wichita State (24-5) vs. Nevada (21-9) 5 p.m.
Iona (19-15) vs. Nebraska (27-1) 7 p.m. (or 30 minutes following match 1)
Saturday, Dec. 4
Friday's Winners 7 p.m