Coach John Cook shared some scheduling news on Monday afternoon. After taking this season off, the I-80 rivalry with Creighton will continue for the Huskers next season as the Huskers will travel to Omaha for a match next season.
The Bluejays are 5-1 with wins over ranked opponents in Kentucky and Washington and came in at No. 9 in the latest AVCA poll, three spots ahead of the Huskers. However, the only way the two teams could see each other this season to determine which side has bragging rights for 2017 is if they face each other in the postseason.
Cook said that the Huskers and Bluejays will play at CenturyLink Center Omaha during the third week of September. Cook said the plan is for Creighton to make a return trip down to Lincoln in 2019.
Nebraska beat Creighton in four sets at the Ameritas Classic in Lincoln last season and swept the Jays at the CenturyLink Center in 2015.
Cook also said Iowa State is planning to begin playing the Huskers again after the Cyclones decided not to set up a match with the Huskers this season.
“We’ve got these teams right here, so we might as well play; then we don’t have to fly all over the place to play good teams,” Cook said. “Those are good RPI teams, so it makes sense.”
In place of a matchup with the Jays this season, Cook chose to participate in the Omaha Challenge hosted by UNO at Baxter Arena. Cook wanted to play a game in Omaha this year for Papillion native and senior Kelly Hunter, and Cook’s connection with former Husker football player and current UNO athletic director Trev Alberts was the driving force behind getting the deal worked out. Cook said he hopes Nebraska’s participation will help bring some attention to the UNO program and its new home at Baxter Arena.
“Nobody knows about that arena really for volleyball and they’ve get a Taraflex [court] in there, so they’ve done it right but nobody really knows,” Cook said. “This is a good chance to get attention for that.”
In other scheduling news, Cook said that Nebraska is playing the rare back-to-back against No.11 UCLA because they could not find a third team who would be willing to participate and make it a tournament despite the Huskers offering $10,000 plus hotel fees to draw a team in.
Finally, 2018 will be the last season Nebraska will participate in the VERT Challenge. The challenge is a four-year event with a rotating venue that includes Florida, Oregon, Texas and Nebraska. The Huskers will host the tournament next season, and then the VERT Challenge will bring in a new group of teams for the next four years.
>> Through five matches, true freshman right side hitter Jazz Sweet is leading the Huskers in hitting percentage at .343 and is second on the team in kills at 2.61 per set. Considering Cook was not even sure Sweet was going to start until right before the season opener, he said he’s been “a little bit” surprised by how efficient she has been.
“I had no idea how she would do,” Cook said. “She was so up-and-down in practice. She’s showing good glimpses. So is Anezka [Szabo]. That’s going to be a great battle. I let those guys battle it out every day. I love it.”
Szabo, Nebraska’s other true freshman right side hitter, came on strong at the end of the weekend, leading Nebraska with 10 kills against St. Mary’s.
“The greatest motivator is butt on the bench,” Cook said. “So one of them is going to be on the bench. I let them battle it out; I think that’s what brings out the best in people is competition. They know they have to be good every day to play.”
As for Sweet, Cook said the secret to her effectiveness is keeping her attacks in play.
“She doesn’t make errors,” Cook said. “She got blocked a couple times on some really tough sets and she has to learn how to deal with that, but she doesn’t make errors.”
Sweet has done a great job of tooling blocks with a variety of different attacking methods. She has committed just 11 errors in 18 sets, the fewest among those with 35 ore more swings.
>> Sweet and Szabo aren’t the only freshmen who had success over the weekend. Redshirt freshman middle blocker Lauren Stivrins shook off a slow start to the season and wrapped up the Amertitas Classic with a pair of strong performances. She totaled 14 kills with just three errors in the wins against Oral Roberts and St. Mary’s after recording four or more errors in each of her first three matches.
“The first weekend was tough, and she was a little better this weekend,” Cook said. “She had pretty good stats. I think she’s just getting more and more comfortable. She hasn’t really played in a year-and-a-half. It just takes a while and I think her potential is really good.”
Cook said Stivrins needed to redshirt last season not only to add strength to her frame and improve her knowledge of the game, but also to improve her blocking, which is still a work in progress.
“The big thing is blocking,” Cook said. “Coming from high school and club, they don’t know how to block. She can attack, but she’s still learning how to be a great blocker.”
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.