Loud crowd awaits UH in Nebraska
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No. 11 Hawaii (16-3) at No. 1 Nebraska (17-0)
» Sunday, 10 a.m.
» TV: Pay-per-view OC Digital 255
» Radio: KKEA 1420-AM
» Series: Nebraska leads 6-5
Across the Pacific Ocean and into a Sea of Red.
That's what awaits the No. 11 Hawaii volleyball team Sunday at No. 1 Nebraska. The Bob Devaney Sports Center has sold out, with an NCAA regular-season-record crowd of 13,595 expected.
Look for Husker Power to be at full wattage.
"It will pretty much be all red," Rainbow Wahine coach Dave Shoji said. "But I don't think the size of the crowd will bother us. And we're used to a bigger arena."
While Nebraska regularly competes in large arenas in the Big 12, the Huskers are more comfortable in the cozy NU Coliseum than Devaney. Tomorrow, the Huskers (17-0, 10-0 Big 12) host Kansas (10-10, 3-7) at the 4,030-seat Coliseum, their 100th consecutive sellout.
Nebraska coach John Cook conceded his team's home-court advantage will be diminished by playing in the larger arena, but he sees the move as part of the preparation for the postseason.
Hawaii has never played in the Devaney. The Wahine are 2-2 in the Coliseum.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii reserve Jessica Keefe, shown blocking against Oregon State in August, is looking forward to the Nebraska match on Sunday. Keefe grew up in Ames, Iowa, and used to watch the Cornhuskers play against Iowa State.
Somewhere in that Sea of Red on Sunday will be a small island of green. More like an atoll, but still, Hawaii expects to have a green-clad presence when it faces No. 1 Nebraska in a sold-out Devaney Center.
Every Rainbow Wahine player should have at least two family members or friends among the anticipated capacity crowd of 13,595, courtesy of UH's ticket allotment. Among them will be the parents of senior middle Kari Gregory, who are making the 1,050-mile trek from their home in Las Vegas.
Had the schedule worked out as tentatively planned, the Gregorys would have had a very short drive to see their daughter play against UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels had been under consideration to fill Hawaii's open date this weekend, a senior gift for Gregory from coach Dave Shoji, who likes to have his mainland players get a least one match close to home during their careers.
"This summer, Dave called and said, 'We just got asked to go to Nebraska,' " Gregory said. "I said, 'Great. But why are you calling me?'
"He said it would be in place of UNLV. I was more than fine with it. It is such an honor to be asked to play there. The only word that comes to mind is 'exciting.' And it's going to be a lot of fun, a great opportunity for us."
It is rare for Hawaii (16-3) to make a midseason trip for a nonconference match. Shoji said that there's been a long-standing invitation to play at Nebraska and it finally came together -- with a hefty monetary incentive.
Although he did not want to disclose how much the guarantee was, Shoji said it offset the cost of the trip. Plus it afforded the Wahine a chance to see how they measured up midseason against a quality opponent in an NCAA tournament-like atmosphere.
"I really didn't want to have another weekend off in the middle of the season," Shoji said. "Even if we lose, I don't think it will impact us in a negative way (in the regional rankings). It's a very good opportunity for our team."
Huskers coach John Cook feels the same way.
"We're very happy that Hawaii agreed to play in Nebraska," Cook said after the Cornhuskers (17-0) swept Missouri on Wednesday night. "It's a matchup of two of the traditional powers in volleyball. Obviously, our fans are excited. The fact that they sold out the Devaney, that they will be part of the largest volleyball crowd for a non-NCAA-tournament match, is a real testament to both Nebraska and Hawaii volleyball, the following the programs have and the excitement they create. We need to continue to have these big-name matchups for the good of the sport of volleyball."
There's an added excitement for Hawaii reserve junior hitter Jessica Keefe, who grew up about 3 hours away in Ames, Iowa. Keefe made a recruiting trip to Nebraska early in her decision process.
"Personally, I'm very excited," she said. "It's such a good test for our team, a chance to see the progress we've made since the beginning of the season. It's a huge game for us.
"There's going to be a sea of red. I know all about Husker Nation. I grew up with them coming to town to play Iowa State. I know what it's going to be like. It's going to be a great atmosphere, playing against a great program and a great mile-marker for us in the middle of the season."
Gregory agreed. Although she's recently been replaced by sophomore Amber Kaufman, she likely will be in the mix Sunday against the tall Husker front line for her blocking skills.
"I'm very interested to see where we're at compared to them," Gregory said. "And we're going to be playing a match that is comparable to an NCAA championship match with the atmosphere. We get this opportunity and it's not even November."