We’ve reached the midway point of the Big Ten volleyball season with the Huskers sitting in fourth place at 8-2 after losing in five sets at Purdue over the weekend. Wisconsin (Nebraska’s other loss) is sitting atop the standings at 10-0 while Penn State and Minnesota are both 9-1.
Statistically, however, you’ll see Nebraska at the top of a handful of categories.
“I was looking through the stats,” Coach John Cook said during his Monday press conference. “We’re halfway through the Big Ten and statistically, we’re doing some really nice things. We’re second in attack efficiency and defensively, we’re leading several categories, opponent attack, assists. I feel really good about that.”
Nebraska is hitting .280, second behind only Wisconsin’s .296. The Huskers are allowing opponents to hit .150, tops in the league by a good margin (Michigan State is second at .175).
After Nebraska struggled somewhat to run an efficient and prolific offense in the nonconference, the Huskers are first in assists (13.35 per set) and in kills (14.24 per set) in Big Ten play.
“I’m surprised by all of that, because I still don’t think we’ve played that well,” Cook said. “We’re good, we haven’t played that great. So we’re trying to go from good to great. I’m actually shocked by all that. Kayla [Banwarth] sent that out as a recruit thing and I’m like, ‘Kayla, this can’t be right.’ … You never think you’re playing that well and you think everybody else is playing great, but now I look at the comparison. I’m pretty pumped up and I want to share that with the team because I think that will be good for them to hear.”
Winning and producing at a high rate despite not playing up to the team’s potential is not a bad place to be in at this stage of the season. The Huskers still have 10 matches left in the regular season to continue making progress.
“That encourages me, and hopefully it will encourage them,” Cook said. “Because I don’t think they feel like we have played our best or at the top of our ceiling … I trust in our training and how we approach things that we can get better in the month of November. But it’s got to come from the players. They have to have the mindset to do that. Traditionally that’s been a strength of ours and we’re going to approach it like we always have.”
Cook said this year’s iteration of the Huskers is one of the closest he’s seen during his time in Lincoln, and that extends beyond just the players. The graduate managers are a part of that too.
“They just do a great job, they’re super low-maintenance, they’re very tight,” Cook said. “Our whole group is just a great group to be around. I’ve told them several times how much I appreciate them. Lindsay [Peterson] had a baby so Lauren, my daughter, is filling in for Lindsay as director of ops, and she told me after the Maryland match, and then last week she just goes, ‘I’ve never been on a team that is so grateful for everything,’ and that’s how they are. They thank each other, they’re very close, they love being together. It’s a really good group.”
Cook said he never knows heading into a season how the players and managers and coaches are all going to connect, but he places an emphasis on working to build those relationships every summer, the graduate managers included.
“I think going to Asia helped even though the grad guys didn’t go, but [Andrew] Sato went,” Cook said. “They’re all about the same age. Jaylen [Reyes] manages those guys and does a great job. They all work camps all summer, they all live together, they all hang out together. Kelly Hunter being back, she’s in the middle of that. She takes them up to her lake house. They’re always together and they fit in really well with our team.”
The Huskers are going to need to rely on that togetherness even more moving forward after losing one of their own with the passing of Dane Leclair.
“I don’t know how all this is going to impact us, but you certainly want to have as little interference as possible, and that’s what I talked about today,” Cook said. “We had a lot of interference last week and it affected how we played. They made a great comeback [from down 21-12 in the first set against Purdue] and I think it was pretty lucky we got to the fifth game. Purdue played great in the fifth game and we didn’t respond. But you don’t make comebacks like that unless you have a pretty special group. That is a deep belief right there.”
>> Part of the “interference” Nebraska dealt with last week was sophomore setter Nicklin Hames missing practice all week with an illness. Cook said he wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to play. In fact, it went right down toe the pre-game of Friday night’s match at Indiana. Cook said he met with the team nutritionist and trainer and was considering giving Hames one more day to recover, but the sophomore said she wanted to give it a go.
“She was really sick all week,” Cook said. “She’s tough; Nicklin is as tough an athlete as I’ve ever been around, almost to the point of she probably pushes it too hard … It all be nice to get her a week of training and get her back in. But she did some good things and she competes.”
Hames finished with 51 assists, 12 digs and a season-high five blocks against the Hoosiers then followed it up with 54 assists, seven digs and an ace against Purdue on Saturday.
>> Sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis remains in school but will not be around the team during her medical leave of absence. Cook said she’s “taking care of her business.”
>> Freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik has been targeted in serve receive 382 times, far more than anyone else on the team. Her receive percentage is .929 with 27 errors. However, Cook said she has been the team’s best passer by Nebraska’s own statistics.
“She plays the position, you get served,” Cook said. “We call it the L2 position and she passes five rotations. You look at her and Kenzie Knuckles, who are you going to serve? You’re going to serve her, so that’s part of it. Mikaela [Foecke] went through it. Before that we had Anni [Albrecht] in that position. That is a key position, but that’s why we recruited her. That’s a true six-rotation outside hitter.”
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.