LINCOLN, Neb. – John Cook emphasizes serving, passing and defense as the core of his program, and it shows as Nebraska is leading the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage this season at .147, nearly 50 points better than second-place Minnesota.
“That’s awesome,” Cook said. “We’ve got to keep that going because if we can keep it down there, keep teams at that level, .150 is our goal so if we can be around .150 you have a chance to win a lot of matches. That’s really good.”
The stellar defense is a result of a philosophical change in recruiting strategy by Cook and his staff.
“We changed our recruiting to become a great defensive team,” Cook said. “That’s why we recruited Anni [Albrecht], Kenzie [Maloney], Justine [Wong-Orantes], having two liberos in the program at the same time, we recruited Sydney [Townsend] … We wanted to get a more defensive-minded mentality.”
Cook said they even went the whole 2005 season without having a libero on the roster.
“I think we were always focused on big, physical hitters, people that can put the ball away, and we’ll train them how to play defense and pass,” Cook said. “I think we made a shift to try to recruit exceptional first contact players.”
>> Speaking of recruiting, Cook talked about the five-person class the Huskers signed last week. The class includes Jazz Sweet, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from Tecumseh, Kansas, Chesney McClellan, a 6-foot-4 middle blocker from Maryville, Tennessee, Sam Slaughter, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter/middle blocker, Aneska Szabo, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Hayley Densberger, a 5-foot-9 defensive specialist from Malcolm, Nebraska.
“We filled some big needs,” Cook said. “The question is, can they play? Jazz and Chesney are ones that should have a great opportunity to come in and contribute right away and then Sam and Anezka are typical Nebraska recruits. They’re three sport athletes; they’re just a little behind. And then Hayley from Malcolm is somebody that can be an exceptional passer, DS-type player.”
>> Cook was asked about the best defensive teams he has coached at Nebraska, and after a moment to think he mentioned two.
“I think our ’06 and ’08 teams were pretty good defensive teams. That ’08 team, that was not a powerhouse offensive team at all. We had walk-on middles and a 5-foot-10 outside hitter. But that team could pass and play D. I think we won a lot of matches with those guys being a great defensive team. Our ’06 team, Dani [Busboom] was a great libero and Jordan [Larson] was a great defensive player, [Rachel] Holloway was a great defensive player for a setter. That team, they were pretty good.
Will Cook remember this year’s squad in a similar light as those two?
>> Cook shared that Indiana – who the Huskers swept on Saturday in Bloomington – is planning to build a new facility to house its volleyball program.
“They have a nice program there, a great campus, they’re breaking ground on a new facility,” Cook said. “She says it will be in there hopefully in 2018 … It’s going to be right next to Assembly Hall and it’s going to be gymnastics, wrestling and volleyball.”
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.