No. 4 Nebraska is preparing to close out the preseason this weekend by hosting the Nebraska Invite. Central Michigan, New Mexico and Missouri State will all be swinging through Lincoln for matches on Friday and Saturday.
“Every team’s a little different,” Coach John Cook said about this weekend’s opponents. “They’re not as physical as like a Creighton, but every team has their way they play and it’s still volleyball. The hard thing is you really can’t prepare for three teams. In this tournament, we’re spending a lot of time on us and [Thursday] we’ll go through Central Michigan and then we’ve got to go through New Mexico Friday afternoon and then Saturday, of course, we have all day to prepare for Missouri State.”
The Invite will bring Nebraska’s seventh, eighth and ninth matches at the Devaney Center so far this season with the tenth match coming at CHI Health Center Omaha in front of the largest crowd for a regular season match in NCAA history. The average attendance for Nebraska matches this season is 8,960 so far.
“I think they’re excited to play at home, but there’s always the expectation and pressure to win at home,” Cook said. “I think they’d all rather play at home. Let’s look at this: [No. 2] Stanford played [No. 3] Texas [Tuesday] night at Stanford and there were 1,400 people. Typically these tournaments [on the road], two of those matches we play with nobody — maybe 100 Husker fans there. By playing at home we have 8,000 getting to watch and it’s a big-time atmosphere. That was my goal for part of our nonconference was to get all these young players used to playing in front of big crowds so when we get to the Big Ten they’ve been in front of big crowds because everywhere we go there’s a big crowd in the Big Ten.”
Cook’s primary goal this weekend is to polish up the team’s play in all areas as the Huskers get set to dive into the grind of the Big Ten schedule.
“I just want to see us continue to play cleaner volleyball, so less errors, execute what we’ve been training, start smoothing out our offense and get in a better rhythm,” Cook said. “So I’m just looking for that. We have three matches to work on that and try to have breakthroughs.”
Senior libero and co-captain Kenzie Maloney also offered a more specific area the players are focusing on this weekend.
“Ball control, just little ball control things that we can handle like cover balls and free balls so that we can get the ball right on top of Nicklin’s head and execute better,” Maloney said.
Another objective for Cook this weekend, results permitting, is to get some of the players who haven’t seen the court all that often a chance to play before the Big Ten begins and the rotation shortens. That could include sophomore outside hitter Lexi Sun, the transfer from Texas who has been working her way back from an injury.
“We’ll see how she’s doing,” Cook said. “Our goal this weekend is to try to play several players, so we’ll see. We’re going to have to see how she’s feeling.”
Sun has been practicing for a few weeks now and has suited up and gone through warm-ups before Nebraska’s last few matches. Cook even had her go through the trash can drill where hitters have to take on three blockers and find a way to get a kill. Cook said their practices are game-like enough that if Sun feels good enough to go, he wouldn’t have a problem inserting her into the match.
Nebraska opens tournament play against Central Michigan Friday at noon and will take on New Mexico Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Nebraska will close out the nonconference schedule against Missouri State Saturday at 7 p.m.
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.