Per NCAA rules, there is a 10-minute cooling off period after matches for each team prior to speaking with the media. Never was it more necessary than Friday night at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
During the postgame handshake, Washington coach Jim McLaughlin and Nebraska coach John Cook exchanged words, bumped each other, then had to be restrained.
The two argued. McLaughlin had to be held back more than once. A Nebraska assistant tried to stifle McLaughlin, who swiped his arm away. Cook turned and walked toward the visitor’s locker room on his own.
Washington won the heated match 3-1 over second-seeded Nebraska 25-16, 20-25, 25-21, 29-27. The unseeded Huskies will play seventh-seeded California on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. in Hec Edmundson Pavilion for a spot in the Final Four.
Two crucial calls in the final set were debated. The first when Washington outside hitter Becky Perry struck a kill attempt with Washington leading 26-25. Perry and the Huskies believed the ball, that went long, was tipped at the net. The officials did not.
Moments later, a strike from Washington’s Kendra Carlson was called in with Nebraska leading 27-26. The Huskers were outraged. Another Carlson kill bumped the score to 28-27 Washington. A final spike from Perry ended the match.
While Washington celebrated and Nebraska players became upset on the court, the coaches met. The altercation ensued with enough fervor that a police officer participated in the separation.
Both coaches were still upset post game.
“What did Jim say?” Cook retorted when asked to explain what occurred at the end of the match. “Apparently he was upset about something. I told him nice match and I said the ball was out. He got upset, so …
“The ball was out. About 500 people from Washington told me as I walked out. They confirmed it. Otherwise, he got upset about something. I don’t know what it was.”
Cook was asked if there was physical contact between he and McLaughlin.
“I shook his hand, is that physical contact?” Cook said.
The Nebraska coach said discussing the event with the NCAA was not on his mind yet.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Cook said. “I’m more concerned about my team and if we got a fair shot to win this match. That was a huge call.”
Cook was then asked if he thought his team received a fair shot.
“Under NCAA rules I’m not allowed to comment on the officiating,” Cook said. “They did a wonderful job.”
McLaughlin was less forthcoming. He issued two terse no comments about what was said.
“I can’t tell you; I’d rather not tell you,” McLaughlin said.
The entire episode is out of character for the calm, friendly, skilled coach.
He uses metaphors to inspire his players, technology to analyze their game. McLaughlin is highly thought of in the volleyball world, so much so, he was a strong candidate to coach the U.S. national team in the 2012 Olympics in London. Many believe he was the top choice but declined. The roof blowing off Hec Ed would have been less surprising than this from the mild-mannered coach.
Cook has been the coach at Nebraska for 10 years, receiving multiple coaching awards during his exceptional tenure there. Cook is a staggering 336-29 since taking over the Huskers program from his role as assistant coach.
Washington and Nebraska last played in the 2008 regional final. Nebraska, a mild underdog then, won in five sets on the same Hec Ed floor. In 2005, Washington defeated Nebraska for the national title.
The only faction in this fracas more mum than McLaughlin was the NCAA. The organization had two representatives at the tournament on Friday night. They spent ample time on the phone following the match. Reporters asked repeatedly to speak directly with them. Eventually, they slid out of the arena and issued a statement through the host, the University of Washington.
“NCAA representatives, Colleen Lim and Pam Parks, have been in communication with the NCAA Volleyball Championship staff, who will review the situation and determine if any further action will be taken.”
No action was taken on site.
Nebraska heads home, Washington moves on. What was said remains unclear.