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Conversations with Cook: Wisconsin
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Conversations with Cook: Wisconsin, ‘Next Point’ Mentality, Madi Kubik

November 25, 2019

Nebraska scored a big win at Minnesota on Friday night, staving off a furious comeback with a dominant fifth set. The Huskers couldn’t carry that success over to Sunday, however, as they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Wisconsin Badgers.

“That was a great match for us to show resilience and hang in there and take their best shot,” Coach John Cook said. “It was a great match. Going into Sunday, we had chances but every time we punched they punched right back. They deserve a lot of credit and that’s probably why they’re going to be the Big Ten champions.”

Wisconsin stumbled a bit out of the gates, going 4-4 in nonconference play. They figured some things out heading into league play, however, and are at the top of the Big Ten standings at 17-1 with one more weekend to go.

“They had a couple injuries, but they played a really tough schedule,” Cook said. “Washington beat them twice, that was the puzzling one because I think they were healthy then. But every team develops at their own pace. The key thing is can you play well at the end?”

Nebraska only mustered four blocks in three sets against the Badgers, three of which came in game three. Almost every time Nebraska had its block in place on the attack the Badgers’ back row covered it up.

“There are five liberos on their team — three of them are really good, they all play,” Cook said. “That’s why their outsides don’t play in the back row. They’ve gone the front row/back row route. I counted up, just between Tiffany Clark and Lauren Barnes, they have seven years of Big Ten experience. We've got Kenzie [Knuckles] and Megan [Miller] who have three, Lexi [Sun] who has two and Madi [Kubik] who has one. So those two have more years in the Big Ten than we do playing back row, serving and passing. Wisconsin’s got a nice system and takes advantage of those guys.”

Cook said that lost is a good teaching tool for the Huskers as they ramp up for postseason play. 

“The most frustrating part was the level that they were playing at, we didn’t stay with our fundamentals like we needed to,” Cook said. “That happens when speed and power and things aren’t going perfect, you tend to start trying to do too much. Especially in our block and our defense and our positioning and following our game plan, we let that get away from us, and that’s part of being a young team and that’s part of Wisconsin playing at a really high level. I talked to our team about that. Against Minnesota we stayed in there, even though it wasn’t going well. But Wisconsin was playing at a really high level and very consistent.”

Against the Golden Gophers, Nebraska took the first two sets 25-22 and 25-18 before losing game three 25-19. The Huskers fall apart in the fourth set, losing 25-11.

After a rousing speech from co-captain Lauren Stivrins, Nebraska turned it around again for game five, whacking the Gophers 15-3.

“We train for that,” Cook said about the turnaround. “It’s a mindset: just focus on the next point. That’s how we do it. We’re constantly building that into the psyche of the players.”

The teams went back and forth a bit early. With Nebraska leading 4-3, Jazz Sweet put down a kill for the sideout. Sophomore defensive specialist Megan Miller went back to the service line and proceeded to serve 10 straight times to close out the match.

“It’s really difficult,” Cook said. “It’d be like hitting 10 straight free throws with the game on the line, kicking 10 straight extra points, throwing 10 strikes in baseball. That’s the equivalent.”

As impressive as Miller’s serving run was, the star of the fifth set was freshman outside hitter Madi Kubik who recorded seven of her match-high 20 kills in the fifth game including one on match point.

“First of all, she had the confidence to go take those swings; that’s great,” Cook said. “She’s worked really hard to get to that point. Second of all, we were in that rotation for 10 or 11 points, so she’s getting most of the swings because a lot of those were transition kills and she had a big block. It doesn’t surprise me because I’ve seen it. She’s earned the confidence to go on the road in an arena like that and an atmosphere like that in a fifth game and do that. It was great to see that happen.”

Kubik got off to a slow start, averaging 2.21 kills per set on .158 hitting in the nonconference. Her numbers are up to 2.99 kills per set on .241 in Big ten play and they’ve been even better over her last eight matches at 3.37 kills per set and .271 hitting. Despite her early struggles, Cook knew what he had in the former fourth-ranked recruit in the 2019 class.

“I saw it in Asia,” Cook said. “Then we started the nonconference and she struggled because I think she put a lot of pressure on herself. She played at that level in Asia … I just think how she’s confident, she’s believing, if she struggles she’s working through it where sometimes early in the year they get impatient.”

Nebraska will need Kubik to keep up her strong play in order to make a deep postseason run, but first they have to close out the regular season with a pair of wins. Nebraska will host Maryland on Friday and Ohio State on Saturday.

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