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Conversations with Cook: Men's Volleyball in the State of Nebraska?
Photo Credit: James Wooldridge

Conversations with Cook: Men’s Volleyball in the State of Nebraska?

September 11, 2017

John Cook shared how a conversation at a club volleyball game led to Nebraska’s participation in the Omaha Challenge at the podium, but he went into a bit more detail about that discussion after his press conference.

“I made a deal with [Nebraska-Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts] if we came up there he’d start men’s volleyball,” Cook said. “I know there’s been talks and he’s been sent contracts and proposals from the NCAA. There’s a group promoting men’s volleyball out of Chicago that’s trying to get money and help fund men’s volleyball — so go to UNO and say ‘we’re going to give you $500,0000 to run men’s volleyball.’ That’s what they’re trying to do; it’s through USA volleyball and the USA men's coach. They haven’t added a Division I program in like 20 years. They’ve added like 100 Division II, Division III, NAIA programs and they all play together. 

“They want to get some Division I programs, and to me UNO is a no-brainer from my perspective. They dropped football, they dropped wrestling, so add a men’s sport. Within five years they can be competing nationally for the Final Four. They’ve got a great recruiting base in Chicago and the midwest area — not in Nebraska, but in the midwest area if they can attract those kids. UNO’s a great campus. Volleyball is big here; the people understand it. To me it’s a great opportunity, but I’m not the AD at UNO.”

Cook noted that only three schools — Nebraska, Washington and Texas — have won a national championship in women’s volleyball while not fielding a men’s program.

>> Cook talked about improving the attack by the middle blockers at the podium, and in the hallway he said that the team is about three weeks behind at this point because of all the time senior setter Kelly Hunter missed. 

>>  Nebraska mostly went away from the 6-2 system that included two setters rotating in this weekend as Hunter nears full strength, but Cook did break it out a couple of times at the end of sets in the first game against UCLA.

“We can go into it and we did this weekend, so it gives us another option if we’re stuck or we need more physical play at the net, but it limits us in some other areas so we have to pick and choose,” Cook said.

In addition to getting a second setter on the court, the move also created more opportunities to get freshman right side hitter Anezka Szabo on the court. 

“Anezka makes people think at the net,” Cook said. “She’s as physical a blocker as there is. She’s going to make people think before they hit. We can also put her out there one-on-one and let her go and gang up on the other hitters, so we feel confident in that. Kelly and Hunter Atherton are both not as physical of blockers as Anezka is so it just gives us something we can go to. Anezka’s played in some matches now and we’re going to keep getting her in because Jazz isn’t going to be all-world every night.”

According to Cook, Szabo is way ahead of where most true freshmen normally are in terms of blocker. In fact, he said he recruited her precisely because she was an “exceptional blocker.”

Cook said that there’s “no question” that the experience Atherton, a redshirt freshman setter, and Szabo got because of the 6-2 system will only help the team down the road.

“Those guys give us an extra bullet in the gun,” Cook said.

>> The Huskers are one week away from the start of Big Ten play and will take on No. 1 Minnesota, No. 2 Penn State and No. 5 Wisconsin all within the first two weekends. Through most of the non-conference slate, the Big Ten is looking as strong as ever. 

“Those are going to be three top five teams,” Cook said. “If we would have won at Florida we’d probably be in the top five too. It looks like it’s lined up just like it was last year so we know it’s going to be tough and that’s a really tough opening stretch for us. Our players have been talking about it all year so they know what’s coming.”

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