Freshman opposite hitter Lindsay Krause had a breakout week with strong performances against Northwestern and Iowa. On Monday, the Big Ten named the Omaha Skutt graduate the conference freshman of the week.
Krause, who earned the starting opposite hitter role after splitting time with fellow freshman Whitney Lauenstein during the nonconference, averaged 3.9 kills per set on .500 hitting in a pair of Nebraska wins.
After the win against Iowa on Saturday, Cook talked extensively about what makes Krause special. On Monday, he said both Krause and Ally Batenhorst, Nebraska’s freshman starting pin hitters, are doing a “pretty good job,” though they both need to keep making progress as blockers.
Nebraska’s other starting pin-hitter last week, junior Madi Kubik, led the Huskers with 34 kills on 82 sets, though she also had 14 errors. Kubik had a season-high 19 kills on .289 hitting against Northwestern and followed it up with a 15-kill, 14-dig double-double (her first of the season), though she also hit just .189.
“The number one hitter role is not by design, it’s just that she’s in the front row a lot,” Cook said about Kubik’s attack volume. “But her primary focus is to be an outside hitter who’s playing six rotations. She’s got to be a good passer for us, a good server and a good defensive player, and then hold her own at the net. But she’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Nebraska’s other veteran outside hitter, Lexi Sun, found herself on the outside looking in at the starting lineup, and she played in just two of Nebraska’s seven sets last week. Cook said the others beat her out in practice.
“She’s serving great, but some of the other areas, she’s got to compete, prove that she’s the best,” Cook said.
Even so with a reduced role, Sun managed to make an impact, recording three block assists in the fourth set against Northwestern and three kills in the third set against Iowa after watching the rest of the match from the bench area.
“I told her I’m really proud of her because she comes in and does a nice job,” Cook said. “Against Northwestern, she came in and got four or five blocks, which I told her we’ve got to have that. Against Iowa, she came in and did a really nice job managing. I think she might have got one good set, everything else was out of system and just found ways to get kills and did a nice job.
“All these guys, Lexi, Whitney, Lindsay, Ally and Madi have got to prove it every day. That’s the standard we’re trying to hold them to right now. You can’t just come in and have one great day or one great match and think you’ve arrived. You’ve got to be able to grind. You’ve got to grind the next nine weeks.”
Another player who has settled into a specialized role off the bench is sophomore setter Anni Evans, who Cook has used consistently as a serving substitute. Aside from the improvement she made from when she first arrived on campus, when Cook said she had a “Waverly JV serve,” Cook also said he likes the flexibility she provides from the back row with the ability to set the offense if Cook wants to take Nicklin Hames out to get more blocking in the front row.
“We’re scoring points, that’s what I like,” Cook said. “And that allows us to go in that double sub, if we have enough subs. Iowa, it was going back and forth, nobody really had runs, so we ran out of subs in game two and we used to double-sub once there. So it allows us to go in that double-sub easier with her serving. But it could change.”
This weekend, the Huskers are welcoming back the 2000 and 2001 teams as part of the Weekend of Champions. The 2000 team was Cook’s first as the head coach, though spending the 1999 season as an assistant under Terry Pettit — and taking a foreign trip to China in the summer of 2000 — eased the transition heading into his first season at the helm.
“It allowed me to get my feet underneath me and be around some of those players that returned,” Cook said. “We were thinking we weren’t going to be that good. That’s why we redshirted Nancy [Metcalf], because Nancy was in the final cut for the Olympics. They played all summer she was beat up and I’m like, ‘OK, I don’t think we’re going to be that good, so, let’s just redshirt Nancy to 2001. Greichaly [Cepero] was going to be a first-year setter, I moved [Laura] Pilakowski from middle to outside. So we’re like, we got all these new positions, new players, so let’s just redshirt Nancy.”
The team that Cook didn’t think was going to be very good ended up going 34-0 and winning the national championship.
“Sometimes teams just catch fire,” Cook said. “It all happened when we were at Notre Dame and football was playing there too, I think. We were playing UCLA, and we won in five, and that’s when all of a sudden they thought ‘Man, we can be pretty good.’”