Heading into the first weekend of Big Ten volleyball play, the league had three undefeated teams ranked in the top five of the AVCA Coaches Poll.
Two games later, every team in the conference has at least one loss and there are seven teams in the top 25 including three in the top 10 after an upset over No. 2 Penn State bumped that Huskers up from No. 14 to No. 8.
Michigan State, who fell out of the top 25 in the previous poll, knocked off both then-No. 1 Minnesota and then-No. 5 Wisconsin over the weekend and has jumped back in at No. 16 this week.
“I’ve been telling you guys, it’s a tough conference,” Coach John Cook said. “In the preseason I thought there might be seven teams that could win the Big Ten title, and you just saw what I was talking about. I don’t think there are going to be any surprises in this conference. It’s going to be nine more weeks of just wild, wild matches. The key is going to be can teams continue to play at a high level consistently, and that’s the balancing act that we’re all trying to do.”
The Huskers certainly played at a high level against the Nittany Lions, and Cook appeared to get a little emotional afterwards in a view tweeted out by the Husker volleyball Twitter account.
“That was a big win,” Cook said. “It’s an emotional game. Any time you talk about the feeling you get when your team plays really well and you get a great result because of that, that’s what we’re all chasing every week.”
A big part of Nebraska’s win was senior middle blocker Briana Holman playing through an ankle injury, which she did with minimal practice time during the week.
“She just came back on that Wednesday just for about 20 minutes, and then Thursday, we don’t do much on Thursdays,” Cook said. “She just hit a couple balls and that was it.”
Beating Penn State is something the upperclassmen are getting used to as the Huskers have won six straight over the Nittany Lions, but it was a new experience and a learning opportunity for the team’s freshmen.
“I think the big thing I hope they take is the amount of preparation and the effort it takes and the energy it takes and it’s a whole week process — it’s not you just show up and play great,” Cook said. “That they understand the process that you go through to play at a high level in an environment like that.”
This week, the Huskers will look to pull off the same feat the Spartans did last weekend as the No. 3 Golden Gophers and No. 7 Badgers swing through Lincoln.
“They’re two of the top five teams in the country and have had great preseasons,” Cook said. “They ran into a Michigan State team that’s on fire right now. We’re playing three top five teams and then Michigan State who just beat them four of our first five matches. We’re just taking it one point at a time, because you start thinking ahead about all this and it can get overwhelming. We’re just trying to get better and win the next point. That’s our focus.”
First up is Minnesota on Friday evening with the first serve set for 5 p.m. on BTN. The Gophers lost last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year in Sarah Wilhite to graduation but are still near the top of the national rankings.
“It’s the same as always,” Cook said. “It’s very fast, Sam [Seliger-Swenson] is a great setter, and they’ve got a great opposite freshman, Stephanie Samedy, she’s a big physical player we’re going to have to deal with. Nothing changes with them; they really try to go fast.”
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.