The ninth-ranked Wisconsin volleyball team was awarded the seventh seed in the 64-team volleyball field announced Sunday night, earning a first and second round match at the UW Field House to go along with it.
"We love having our fans here for us and we play well here," head coach Pete Waite said. "I thought it was an 80 percent chance that we would (get to host) but you never know. We've set a lot of records this year and it's been a lot of fun."
The Badgers (25-4) will host Northern Iowa (22-10) in the first round on Friday at 7 p.m. Iowa State (17-13) meets San Diego (21-7) in the first match Friday, at 5 p.m. The winners meet at 7 p.m. Saturday for a berth in the regional semifinals.
Wisconsin won't need to do too much scouting for this year's tournament, as the Badgers have become extremely familiar with their opponents over the last two seasons.
Wisconsin beat San Diego, 3-1, in California two Septembers ago and ousted Iowa State in three games in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament.
This season, the Badgers beat Northern Iowa, 3-0, on Sept. 1 at Brigham Young University as part of the BYU Molten Classic.
Northern Iowa went on to finish in a three-way tie for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference and then won the MVC tournament.
"We're definitely excited about the bracket, especially playing here for the seniors," senior AVCA All-American Jackie Simpson said. "We already know these teams coming in and they are probably anxious to get another shot at us."
The Badgers also host the regional, set for Dec. 7 and 8. The champion of the regional will advance to the national championship in Sacramento the following weekend.
After finishing 15-2 at home last season, the Badgers finished 11-2 in 2007 and are 21-2 in postseason play at the UW Field House since the team's first appearance in 1990.
With the top-seeded team in the region being Nebraska, the two teams would have to each win three games in order to face off on December 8. Nebraska is coached by former UW coach John Cook, whose left Wisconsin after the 1998-'99 season to take an associate head coaching job at Nebraska.
The two schools haven't played since Nebraska beat Wisconsin in five games to win the 2000 NCAA Championship.
"They're a tough team, they're defending champions and they have the last two players of the year on their team," Waite said. "They're very strong, but I rather see them here than anywhere else, that's for sure."
"If we end up playing them, we're going to have to play our best ball and we know that," Simpson added. "We also know they are very similar to Penn State, so we know we can hang in there and have a shot."
Wisconsin looked to be in danger of not hosting opening round games when they went through a difficult stretch from late October to late November. Bookended by two losses to conference champion Penn State, the Badgers dropped a game at home to unranked Michigan State and had to fend off two match points at home to Michigan and Northwestern before surviving in five games.
"There was a stretch there where we plateaued for a little bit and weren't clicking as a group," Waite said. "But I think the loss against Michigan State kicked us into gear a little bit more and even the loss at Penn State raised our level to where we want to be again. Sometimes you need that to refocus and get going, but they are sharp right now."
"We hit that mid-season lull and I think that had to do with lots of travel time and exams going on," Simpson added. "It's a long season, but now it's a new season starting. It's like preseason, which makes us all excited to be playing at home."
In addition to Wisconsin, five other Big Ten schools – Michigan, Michigan State Minnesota, Penn State, Purdue - made the 64-team field. Penn State earned the third overall seed and also will be hosting a regional. The Badgers could face the Nittany Lions again in the national semifinals on December 13th.