After a long few weeks in the gym, the Huskers’ focus in practice has shifted toward game-planning and fine-tuning things as Nebraska’s season-opener draws near.
“Practice has been good,” freshman defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles said. “We’ve been working on just fixing skills rather than doing certain drills and stuff. It’s been more detailed and faster pace, getting a lot of reps in.”
After three weeks of playing against each other, including the Red-White Scrimmage, Coach John Cook said the Huskers are ready to face off against somebody else.
“They probably are,” Cook said. “I think they’ll be excited to play. Last week was super exciting and super nerve-wracking. Now I think our focus is going to be on beating our opponents. I think that will be a little mind shift for them, it might be a little easier for them to play.”
The Huskers will begin with a tough test against in-state foe No. 18 Creighton on Friday in the Husker Invitational. Like he did on Monday, Cook said he doesn’t view the series against the Bluejays as a rivalry, but rather as a celebration of volleyball in this state.
“Here are two great programs that are going to go at it in front of 8,000 people on television and radio so it just gives you a great feel,” Cook said. “No other place in the country is this going to happen and it gives you a great feel of why volleyball is so special in Nebraska.”
Last season, Nebraska dug itself out of a 0-2 hole to beat the Bluejays in five sets at CHI Health Center Omaha in front of a record crowd of 14,022, the largest attendance ever for a regular season volleyball match.
The Bluejays lost their outstanding outside hitters in Jaali Winters and Taryn Kloth but return most of their other starters including setter Madelyn Cole, libero Brittney Whitt and middle blocker/opposite hitter Megan Ballenger.
“Creighton always serves really well, plays really good defense and they play really good volleyball,” Cook said. “They always have and that’s why they win the Big East and that’s why they are so successful and a top-10 program. I’m just glad Taryn Kloth’s not here because she might have had one of the greatest matches ever against the Huskers. That was unbelievable what she did last year. Hopefully they don’t have somebody that can do that.”
Kloth recorded 26 kills on .400 hitting against the Huskers last year. Mikaela Foecke nearly matched her with 25 kills on .351 hitting on Nebraska’s side.
On Saturday, the Huskers will take on a UCLA team that went 13-14 last season and saw multiple starters transfer out of the program. Both Friday’s and Saturday’s matches at the Devaney Center will begin at 7 p.m. and will be televised by NET.
The Husker Invitational isn’t the only thing happening this weekend, however. Nebraska is also inducting a new class into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday. The 2019 class includes former volleyball standout Greichaly Cepero (1999-2003) as well as Rhonda Branford-Green (track and field,1982-85), Wes Suter, (gymnastics, 1983-86), Grant Wistrom (football, 1994-97) Francis Allen (men’s gymnastics coach, 1970-2009) and Carol Frost and Ed Weir (Nebraska 150 Pioneer).
“Our administration, they have a committee who decides who gets in that Hall of Fame,” Cook said. “I think Greicha is certainly deserving and I think it means a lot for our program to have somebody go in … For Greicha to be able to go in with that group is going to mean the world to her and getting her back here to see all this, she’s blown away by our locker room. That’s the first thing she said, ‘They have showers?’ In the Coliseum when she was here we had like a pipe coming out of the wall; it was like a makeshift shower room and the lockers were terrible. This is all new for her and different.”
Cepero, who played both basketball and volleyball at Nebraska, stopped by practice on Thursday and Cook introduced her to the team.
Greichaly in the house‼️
— Husker Volleyball (@Huskervball) August 28, 2019
“In 1999, she played outside hitter and we moved her to setter my first year as the head coach. We went to China [in 2000] — Lindsay [Petersen, then Wischmeier] was on that team — so that was her first time setting. We were at dinner on the last day, we were at this restaurant overlooking the South China Sea — it was beautiful — in Hong Kong. She stands up and says we’re going to win the national championship. My first thought was ‘OK, you haven’t even set a college match yet, we went out in the Sweet 16 the year before and we’re going to win the national championship? So not only did we win the national championship, we went undefeated and she was the national player of the year.”
The 2019 hall of fame induction ceremony is set for 4 p.m. on Friday at the Hall of Fame Plaza outside of East Memorial Stadium.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.