No. 2 Nebraska’s first weekend of Big Ten play got off to a rough start. From a travel delay to less-than-ideal conditions on Friday night to a quick turnaround on Saturday, Nebraska showed a lot of resiliency to chalk up two conference wins this season.
“We couldn’t travel Friday night,” Coach John Cook said. “We had to go Saturday, show up and practice, go back and play the match. It was a tough travel weekend as well with all the weather in Chicago. Everything was shut down. Our players handled it really well and I reminded them that was one of the reasons we went to Asia was to practice for tough travel and weird times and time zones and being out of our routine. They did a really good job with that.”
In addition to the travel problems, Nebraska also had to play a five-set match in an arena in Champaign on Friday night that doesn’t have air conditioning. Cook said he had the team practice without the A/C on at the Devaney Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it didn't compare to what they dealt with at Illinois.
“They don’t have air conditioning, they just have the big fans up there. It’s like today, that’s what the weather was like: stormy, windy, hot humid. It was brutal in there.”
Cook praised the way his team bounced back after that match to sweep Northwestern in Evanston the following night.
“We looked pretty fresh Saturday night, but we had a great plan,” Cook said. “Nuwanee [Kirihennedige], our nutritionist, had a great plan for their recovery. Jolene [Emricson] puts them in the NormaTec stuff. We were hydrating the heck out of them. Probably because we didn’t have to travel that night, we were able to get on that stuff right away. Normally we travel and wait until the next day. We got a round that night and a shorter round on Saturday. We know how to get them recovered and they’re constantly practicing that.”
>> Sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller has grown into a real weapon for Nebraska at the service line. Against Illinois on Friday, she served an 8-0 Huskers run to help Nebraska dig itself out of an early hole. She’s second on the team with 10 aces this season and is he only player on the team with more aces than errors (nine).
“That’s our best point-scoring rotation and she sets it up because she’s serving really tough,” Cook said. “She does that in practice and we have a heck of a time passing her, so I tell her ‘Can you do that in the games?’ She’s listening.”
Cook said Miller serves in rotation four, which includes setter Nicklin Hames, middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and outside hitter Madi Kubik in the front row.
>> Friday’s match was only the second home match of the season for Illinois, and the Illini faithful showed up in force. Official attendance for the match was 4,152.
“Illinois was sold out,” Cook said. “For us, they had over 4,000, it was packed all the way to the top, and then the next night against Iowa they had 2,800. We tend to fill arenas. I think we hold every attendance record in the Big 12, I know that. Every place we played in the Big 12, their attendance records are all off playing Nebraska. I don’t know if it’s that way in the Big Ten, but schools are selling out now in the Big Ten, so that’s really good.”
>> One of Nebraska’s biggest recruiting tools is the presence of former Huskers playing for the United States in international competition. Over the weekend, Team USA — featuring former Huskers Kelsey Robinson, Jordan Larson and Justine Wong-Orantes — won the silver medal in the FIVB World Cup with a 10-1 record.
“The USA women just won the silver medal in the World Cup, which for you guys World Cup probably doesn’t mean anything, but World Cup in world sports is probably second to the Olympics,” Cook said. “It was over 15 days I think and we had three players on a roster of 12 or 14 or however many they have, and that helps us in recruiting, seeing three USA players on the USA World Cup. Kelsey is a rep for Adidas now, sponsored by Adidas, so her brand and marketing is huge.”
Robinson was named to the World Cup Dream Team as the tournament’s best outside hitter.
“First of all, being on the USA team and winning a silver medal in a tournament like that is a really big deal,” Cook said. “Her being honored, it’s just a testament to her hard work. She is not the most talented, physical outside hitter. She’s 6-foot, doesn’t jump that high, but she’s worked really hard. She's played on one of the top club teams in the world in Turkey, which has really helped her. She has struggled, they put her at libero for a while, and she’s been doing really well.
“She needs a really good set because she doesn’t jump 11 feet. I think now that they have [Jordyn] Poulter and [Lauren] Carlini setting, those guys are really good setters and I think that’s a big product of they’re giving her really good spots and she’s making great decision and finding a way to be really successful. It’s very impressive. She’s one of the six best players in the world in the second biggest tournament besides the Olympics. Think about that.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.