LINCOLN, Neb. – The final week of Big Ten play brings yet another colossal match-up as the top-ranked Huskers will travel to Minneapolis to take on the second-ranked Gophers of Minnesota on Wednesday night.
The Huskers downed the Gophers in five sets in Lincoln nearly a month ago, and outside of Minnesota’s tempo, Coach John Cook said he sees some similarities between the programs.
“The speed and they’ve got five hitters that are good,” Cook said. “I think it’s the same with us; we have five hitters that can put the ball away and then a setter that can kill it. You’ve got to defend the whole show.”
Cook said the biggest test for both teams will be the serving and passing battle. Cook said the Huskers served very well in their last match at Iowa as they finished with six aces and just two errors while the Hawkeyes were only able to play in-system 10 percent of the time.
In the previous battle, the Huskers finished with 17 blocks and held the Gophers to .159 hitting.
“I just think we prepared well and our middles did a really nice job that night,” Cook said. “It’s a very tough system to be good on and the key is that you don’t chase the last play and you stay disciplined. If they bounce a ball on you, you don’t start deviating from the game plan. You have to be really disciplined.”
To win round two, Cook said he is going to need his left side hitters, sophomore Mikaela Foecke and senior Andie Malloy, to continue the hot streak they’ve been riding down the stretch.
>> Malloy is coming off perhaps her best week as a Husker, and Cook said the progress has been steady for the graduate transfer from Baylor. The Huskers had an opening on the left side with the graduation of Kelsey Fien from last year’s team, but Cook didn’t have any specific expectations in mind when Malloy joined the team.
“I really didn’t have any expectation for her,” Cook said. “I knew she was a good volleyball player, but the expectations were to give us depth and see where she could fit in. Of course, we had to figure out where we would put her because she’s played right, she’s been a setter, she’s played left. Baylor actually, they played her both left and right. She’s just a good volleyball player so we just had to figure out where she would fit in.”
The adjustment to Big Ten competition was a difficult one for the senior who had played the rest of her career in the Big 12, but Cook said she is starting to find her stride.
“Andie’s done a great job,” Cook said. “She’s continued to get better throughout the season. Her blocking’s gotten better – again, being in the gym and training. She’s understanding how to attack in the Big Ten. She works really hard and she is getting better.”
>> The Huskers will wrap up the season on Saturday as they host Michigan on Saturday for senior day. Cook said Nebraska will have a difficult time finding enough tickets for all of the family members of the four seniors. The normal allotment for players is four tickets. Cook said he is hoping Michigan fans don’t use their full allotment of tickets so that the Huskers can scoop up the leftovers.
>> The Huskers received a surprise guest last Friday as a certain comedian with Nebraska ties dropped by.
“[Freshman middle blocker] Lauren Stivrins and I were talking about USC volleyball,” Cook said. “She looked at USC volleyball and she was telling me that USC has movie stars come to their campus and Chris Brown came to their volleyball team, the locker room or whatever. I said ‘Well, we have movie stars here too,’ and she goes ‘Oh, no we don’t.’ I said ‘Just wait; I’ll get you a movie star.’
“So I texted Larry the Cable Guy and he showed up.”
Cook said he goes way back with the famous Husker fan and that the comedian stuck around for a while to take pictures and share stories with the team.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Cook said. “He’s been in our locker room before after matches. We did stuff together back in the late 2000s with the Child Advocacy Center. He’s a great guy, loves Husker sports. If you follow his tweets, he always knows what’s going on.”
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.