Nebraska closed out the nonconference slate with a sweep over Wichita State on Saturday, but Coach John Cook was far from pleased with his team’s effort after the match. He still felt that way on Monday during his weekly press conference.
“Our mindset wasn’t right,” Cook said. “That’s one thing we can control. We can’t control when you’re playing a really good team or a great player is doing something, sometimes you can’t control that, but you can always control our mindset and I just don’t think we had a great mindset going into it. Maybe it took a little bit of the luster off of winning. I’m glad we won, but I know the mindset that we have to have this week and that message needed to be sent.”
Cook said it was a good time to send that message with the Huskers getting set to dive into Big Ten play this week because the Huskers can’t afford to have that kind of mindset in any conference match.
“You have one off night, it might be the championship,” Cook said. “I’m assuming that’s why we’re working and we’re playing and we’re in this conference is we’re trying to win it.”
The Huskers completed the nonconference 8-1 with the lone blemish coming against reigning champion Stanford. The Huskers dropped from No. 1 to No. 3 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll after the loss to the Cardinal, though they received six first-place votes. Creighton, who Nebraska beat in four sets in Lincoln to open the season, is No. 14 and San Diego, who the Huskers beat in five at the SDSU/USD Challenge, is receiving votes. Stanford jumped back to No. 1 despite losing to BYU after beating the Huskers in Lincoln.
“I think it’s pretty good,” Cook said about Nebraska’s nonconference schedule. “We played a lot of teams that are probably going to be in the NCAA Tournament. We played Stanford which was a great match for us to go through. We got pushed and challenged and we were on the road for back-to-back matches against two NCAA Tournament teams. I don’t know what else we could do but I feel like our team understands what they have to do to be successful.”
Now, the grind that is the Big Ten begins. Though Nebraska made it all the way to the national championship match last season, the Huskers only finished tied for third in the Big Ten with a 15-5 league record.
“We’re trying to pursue — starting this week, the next 10 weeks — I think one of the hardest championships in college sports to win,” Cook said. “It’s 10 weeks playing sometimes back-to-back on the road and we’ve got a lot of good teams in our conference for volleyball. We’ll see if our players are up to the challenge. The nonconference is a preparation for the Big Ten and now is when the ante goes up and we start keeping score.”
Six teams in the Big ten are ranked in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll with two more receiving votes.
Penn State (7-2) is No. 5. The Nittany Lions lost to Stanford in four but beat then-No. 10 Oregon in three in the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge. Last week, they bounced back from a sweep against No. 6 Pittsburgh at home to beat the Panthers two days later on their own floor.
Minnesota (6-2) is No. 7 with wins over three ranked teams in Florida, Oregon and Stanford as well as losses to Texas and Florida State. Wisconsin is No. 13 despite a 4-4 record that includes losses to Marquette, Baylor and Washington, all three of which are ranked in the top 10 this week.
Purdue (8-1) is at No. 15 with wins over No. 16 Kentucky and then-No. 22 Louisville (now first among others receiving votes) but a loss to unranked Notre Dame. Illinois (5-4) is at No. 20 with two five-set wins over Tennessee (then No. 19, now barely receiving votes) and another five-set win over then-No. 7 and now No. 10 Marquette. The Illini have lost to a ranked opponent in Washington (then No. 16, now No. 8) and three unranked foes in Colorado, Illinois State and Central Florida.
Cook said the Big Ten looks to be “really good” again this year.
“I think a lot of Big Ten teams played a really tough nonconference schedule,” Cook said. “Everybody’s trying to prepare for what comes now. But now you’ve got to do it, home and on the road, in front of crowds. A lot of those [nonconference] matches happen in neutral sites and nobody’s there. Everything changes in the Big Ten and there are a lot of good teams. You have to bring it every night.”
Nebraska will open conference play with three straight road matches, starting with a trip to Champaign on Friday to take on the Illini. After that, they’ll travel to Evanston to take on Northwestern.
“Any time you go Friday-Saturday on the road, back-to-back, it’s tough,” Cook said. “Then we turn around and have to go to Rutgers Wednesday. So it’s going to be three road matches in five days. I guess I’m glad Illinois is fairly close as opposed to going to Rutgers then going back to the east coast; that’s a lot of travel.”
First serve in Champaign is set for 7:30 p.m. CT on Friday on BTN. Saturday’s match against Northwestern will be available on BTN+ and will begin at 7 p.m.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.