Husker fans got a scare on Saturday when senior middle blocker Briana Holman went down against Omaha with an apparent ankle injury and left the arena on crutches after the match.
The good news from John Cook is that the ankle isn’t broken, it's just a sprain. However, Cook said it is too early to tell how much time Holman will miss.
Holman’s injury provided an opportunity for true freshman middle blocker Chesney McClellan to make her (brief) debut against the Mavericks, eliminating the chance for a redshirt year. Cook said he doesn’t normally plan to redshirt a player out of the gates, and, in fact, had Kelly Hunter been healthy all season, Cook said McClellan likely would have played earlier in the season. However, Nebraska had other issues to smooth out without its All-American setter.
“We were just trying to get Bri and Lauren [Stivrins] going,” Cook said. “Kelly has only really been, up until last weekend, four practices where she was all-out, blocking, doing everything. We’re just trying to get a rhythm going that we should have been doing on August 8th, and we’ve had four practices. Kelly didn’t block very well and part of that is she's blocked four days since April. We're a little bit behind and were trying to catch up.”
McClellan is a 6-foot-4 middle blocker from Maryville, Tennessee who was ranked as the No. 26 prospect in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com coming out of high school.
“She's just a solid volleyball player, and she's big,” Cook said. “She's got good vision. She doesn't get blocked very often. She’s just a smart player. The speed and all that is not going to bother her at all. She’s been doing really well in practice … She's been training great and she’s a pretty high-skilled player. She played at a really good club team and she was very well-coached before she even got here, so it's not like we’re starting from zero with her. I think she’ll be fine and rise to the challenge.”
>> Next up for the Huskers is a re-match with the team Nebraska took down in five sets in the regional semifinal last season: the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State (10-0) is No. 2 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll and Cook said the team is almost the same squad that the Huskers battled with in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
“It's the same team that we played here in the regionals,” Cook said. “They’re a 6-2 — that’s when they first started the 6-2 was here.”
Senior outside hitter Simone Lee was named co-Big Ten Player of the Week after averaging 3.6 kills and 1.7 digs per set and being named tournament MVP of the Penn State Classic over the weekend. Lee is the third different Nittany Lion to garner a weekly conference award in as many weeks.
Cook doesn’t expect his team will have any problems getting up for Friday’s Big Ten opener.
“I think it's easier for us to play against those teams than a noon match against UNI,” Cook said. “We got tense because that’s a match we’re supposed to win and UNI played out of their minds and they played great. A week ago they lost to Missouri-Kansas City and they were awful. This is college sports. We got a little uptight. That’s why we’ve got to learn from that.”
>> The Omaha Classic last weekend opened the home schedule for the Mavericks at Baxter Arena, and Cook said he came away from the facility impressed.
“It’s great, it's a shrunk-down CenturyLink [Center],” Cook said. “I think the fans feel pretty part of it and they’re pretty close, it was pretty loud and I think it really inspired UNO that first game. Those guys played great. I think the crowd rattled us a little bit. We were all really impressed. Great locker rooms, great facilities, the whole thing is first class.”
Cook said he wouldn’t mind returning to Baxter Arena as a spectator down the road, albeit for a different sport.
“My goal is to go see a hockey match there now, because I think it’s a great hockey arena,” Cook said. “I told [Omaha associate athletic director] Mike Kemp, I want tickets right on the floor … The last time I was at a hockey match was at Wisconsin and he was at Wisconsin.”
As for returning to Omaha for a business trip, Cook said he wouldn’t be against playing at Baxter again in the future. However, Nebraska is already planning to play against Creighton in each of the next two years, including at CenturyLink Center Omaha in 2018, and giving up home games at the Devaney Center to travel to Omaha for a game against the Mavericks does not make much sense.
“There’s no reason why they can't have great tournaments there, get good teams to come there, because it’s a really nice facility,” Cook said. “Parking’s great, just the whole thing is really nice.”
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.