During his weekly Monday press conference, Coach John Cook discussed the impact each of his three seniors has had on the team this season and throughout her careers.
Afterward, Cook went into a little more detail with reporters about the level of respect libero Kenzie Maloney garners from her teammates and where that comes from.
“She’s probably won that EDMF belt more than anybody; she’s just tough,” Cook said. “She played for a legendary high school coach, Ron Kordes, and that guy, he’s tough. So she came through a system of really tough coaching and she’s really tough. She’s the oldest of four girls. I’d want her in my foxhole in battle.”
Maloney’s toughness combined with her elite athleticism makes her one of the best liberos in the country.
“I knew she was athletic, but not this athletic,” Cook said. “Remember, she was a hitter in high school, then when I saw her in beach, that’s when I realized this kid is really athletic. With how she moves in the sand, she could be a great beach player.”
However, Maloney is considering making a jump to the coaching world after her college career comes to an end. Cook said she’s been talking with former Nebraska assistant and current Louisville head coach Dani Busboy Kelly about a graduate manager position with the Cardinals while Maloney pursues her master’s degree.
That’s all down the road, however, Maloney and her teammates still have plenty of volleyball left to play this season.
Sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun will play a big role in the Huskers’ postseason run and after a rough midseason stretch she seems to have turned things around. The transfer from Texas put together six straight matches from Oct. 13 to Nov. 2 where she hit below .200, including one match in the negative. She hit .092 during that stretch. However, over the last five matches, Sun is hitting .268. Sun’s first season in Lincoln has had all kinds of ups and downs but Cook is taking a day-by-day approach with her.
“I really didn’t have any expectations,” Cook said. “We’ve been taking it day by day. At first it was like, ‘OK, let’s hope she can get healthy and play and from there let’s build on that.’ My whole thing with her is are we working on the things to get better every day that she needs to work on to be a six-rotation player? I want to see the effort each day on those things because like I’ve told her, sometimes when you have a lot of talent and you’re a great hitter, you just rely on that. But a six-rotation player has to rely on five other things they have to be great at. That’s been our day-by-day, week-by-week deal. So my expectation is that if she wants to be great, she’s got to work really hard at those things every day.”
Cook said he has found since Sun has arrived in Lincoln that she is a very hard worker.
“Everything that we talked about in recruiting, she has lived up to and met those expectations with her work ethic and her desire to become a complete six-rotation player,” Cook said.
Last Friday’s opponent, No. 12 Purdue, held star outside hitter Mikaela Foecke relatively in check, but the rest of the team stepped up led by Sun (who had a team-high 13 kills) and the middle blockers (18 kills on .316 hitting between the two of them).
Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach have seemingly flashed offensively more and more in recent weeks, though Cook said their middle attack is still a “work in progress.”
“It’s getting better,” Cook said. “When you’ve got s freshman setter [Nicklin Hames] and a freshman middle [Schwarzenbach], it takes a while. We’re going to continue to work really hard on it. This weekend we were able to do a really good job against Indiana as well. If we can run middle, it really helps out our outside hitters.”
Stivrins has really come on strong of late with three straight matches with double-digit kills, and Cook said there are a variety of factors that go into getting the middles involved.
“It’s passing, then it’s setting and then it’s trust,” Cook said. “Look at Lauren’s stats this year compared to last year. She’s way higher this year than last year, so Nicklin’s getting there and of course Callie’s had some good nights and some tough nights. That part of our game really has to evolve.”
Sun hasn’t been the only one who has gone through a rough stretch offensively. Sophomore right side hitter Jazz Sweet is now hitting .200 on the season. To get a little bit more offensively out of Nebraska’s first rotation, Cook started freshman outside hitter Capri Davis in Sweet’s place.
“We’re using her in what’s called our rotation one to help us side out there because we’ve been getting stuck in that rotation because Jazz is a left-hander and when we get out of system it’s really hard for a lefty over there,” Cook said. “I’m just trying to keep Capri — she’s doing a great job and she’s been doing a great job in practice, so she can get us kills and help us side out there.”
Davis put down eight kills with three errors on 14 swings (.357 hitting) in last weekend’s matches.
With two weekend matches at home this week, the Huskers will have a chance to get a lot of work done during practice, and Cook’s focus for that training is simple.
“Work on the fundamentals and get better,” Cook said. “If you look at this, you really have this week and then next week, and then if we advance after the first and second round, we could be traveling so it’s a short week and you’re just trying to maintain. We’ve really got two weeks now to try to get better.”
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.