Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Volleyball

Padding the Stats: No Fall Sports Presents Unique Situation for Huskers

August 12, 2020

The Big Ten dropped a bombshell on the college sports world on Tuesday by postponing the fall sports season, and the Pac-12 followed suit shortly after. 

Obviously football was the focus of the national media, and rightfully so. It’s the biggest money-maker for most programs and missing out on that revenue will have long-lasting effects. However, football isn’t the only fall sport at Nebraska that operates in the black.

Since John Cook’s Huskers walked off the court last year after losing to Wisconsin in the Regional Final round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament, their focus has been on one thing: Destination Omaha. The Huskers returned to campus and began voluntary workouts in June, and they started up preseason practice last week all while keeping that goal in mind. That goal is off the table now.

Arguably the two best volleyball conferences in the NCAA bowed out of the fall season on Tuesday, which casts doubt on the sport as a whole. The Division I Board of Directors gave the Division I Council until Aug. 21 to come up with a recommendation for the fall sport championships, and Tuesday’s news threw another wrench into that discussion. Can volleyball move forward as scheduled with the Big Ten and Pac-12 sitting out? Will the NCAA Volleyball Championship still be coming to Omaha Dec. 17-19?

Since Nebraska joined the Big 10 in 2011, 25 of the 36 Final Four teams and eight of the nine champions have come from either the Big Ten or the Pac 12. What would a tournament even look like without those conferences? Are we even sure other leagues won’t follow suit and move at least volleyball and other Olympic sports to the spring?

Regardless of what the future holds, we know the fall won’t include the Huskers playing in front of sold-out crowds at the Devaney Center this fall. It won’t include a nonconference game against Creighton at CHI Health Center Omaha. It won’t include a out-of-conference clash with Stanford. And it won’t include the Huskers going for their second national title in their backyard in six years.

Nebraska has been building toward this season for a few years now. Nebraska was probably ahead of schedule last season making it as far as they did with two freshmen in starting roles and no seniors on the roster. Falling short of their fifth straight Final Four was certainly disappointing, but 2020 was always going to be the year for this group. Unfortunately, Lauren Stivrins and Jazz Sweet and Lexi Sun and Hayley Densberger won’t get the kind of senior season they expected — or the one they deserved.

The August issue of Hail Varsity Magazine has typically been our volleyball preview issue, and despite Tuesday’s news we are still going forward with our plan. We won’t be previewing the season, but we will be telling the stories of the women on this team, and we’ll continue to do so however we can over the next four months.

I talked with Stivrins earlier this week, and she told me the Huskers are handling the uncertainty with the same mindset they attack the season. Their point-by-point mentality has become a day-by-day approach.

“Our team is really good about staying present and that’s something that we work a lot on with mindfulness and stuff like that,” Stivrins said. “Honestly, we’re just doing it the best we can, day by day, to make sure we’ll be where we need to be for tomorrow. I don't think this team is getting too stressed out about what-ifs and the what-might-bes. We’re just really, really good about staying present. I really think that’s super beneficial, even in other aspects of life. There’s nothing good that comes from worrying about what’s going to happen in the future or what happened in the past. I think it’s a very mature mindset for a young group of girls to have to just be able to take this whole situation day by day.”

What likely helps the volleyball team is the feasibility of a spring season compared to a sport like football where it’s hard to see it actually happening. Cook himself was advocating for a spring season on his podcast before the news officially came down. While the competition is intense, volleyball doesn’t necessarily take the same kind of physical toll on an athlete as football does and the Huskers already compete in beach volleyball plus spring practices and an exhibition game during a normal spring. Volleyball teams also don’t get nearly the amount of preseason practice that football programs do under NCAA rules so the turnaround wouldn’t be as quick from one season to the next.

The Big Ten tossed out the possibility of a spring football season likely to try to keep teams and players from looking for opportunities outside of the conference. I doubt it happens, for all of the reasons I laid out in a previous column here. Volleyball is a different story, though, and I hope the Big Ten can come up with a great plan to give these seniors and their teammates the competition they deserve come the spring.

There are still so many questions the Big Ten has to work through, and many of them won’t have answers until we see what happens with the NCAA, the other conferences and our country as a whole. In the mean time, however, you can bet Cook and his captains will keep the Huskers locked in and ready for whatever the future holds. 

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