The stretch run of the spring season has arrived for the Nebraska volleyball team. The last month-plus has been building up to Saturday’s exhibition against Wichita State in Central City.
“These guys are pumped, they’re going to be pumped,” Coach John Cook said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’ll have to do some breathing before we go on the court. When we played Creighton we had two freshmen that couldn’t breathe before the match. So these guys get really fired up; they’ve got to learn how to control that a little bit. But it’s fun to see that because they’re so fired up to play and you guys see how competitive our practices are. I mean, I would pay to watch these practices. These practices are awesome.”
The match against Creighton was a closed scrimmage against the Bluejays at the Denver Center last Friday, which served as a dress rehearsal of sorts for the new-look Huskers as they prepare to play in front of Nebraska fans for the first time in Central City.
“We’re having the Central City thing and this Creighton thing just kind of came up late,” Cook said. “It was their last spring match and they just said, ‘Hey, you guys want to scrimmage?’ And we said ‘Sure.’ Normally our spring isn’t as long because of the school calendar. So we actually have an extra week, which is good because we were able to move Central City away from football.”
Thanks a ton to @Huskervball for hosting us for our last scrimmage of the spring season! Can't wait for our next competition in Italy 🇮🇹 #gojays pic.twitter.com/6eFdfWyvcF
— Creighton Volleyball (@CreightonVB) April 22, 2023
The teams agreed beforehand to play five sets no matter what, which gave Cook the opportunity to mix up his lineup and get a few different looks at his team. Competition has been fierce and players have bounced back and forth between the A and B sides all spring as Cook gives everyone a chance to earn playing time.
“We did some really high-level things,” Cook said about the scrimmage. “We played two completely different lineups and both lineups did really well. I think, for a spring match, for both teams it was a really high level. Usually those things can be pretty ugly; you’ve got an outside hitter playing middle and just sometimes those can get ugly, and I just thought it was really high level.”
Cook said a couple of his freshmen had a difficult time breathing properly ahead of the scrimmage because they were so excited. Harper Murray, a 6-foot-2 freshman pin, said she might have been one of them, but also let it slip that Nebraska won the scrimmage.
“There were a lot of good learning moments in that and that was the first time that all of us went out and played together like a real game,” Murray said. “So a lot of good learning moments, a lot of ups and downs, but we figured it out and that’s what scrimmages are for. So overall, it was a good game for us.”
The Creighton scrimmage was just one part of a long spring spent incorporating the team’s six newcomers including five freshman early enrollees. Cook said he didn’t set any expectations for the team heading in but he feels like they’ve gotten a lot accomplished thus far.
“We’ve installed a lot,” Cook said. “We’re trying a lot of new things that we’re capable of doing, which has gone really well. This group has had a great learning mindset, and so they’ve they’ve worked really hard to try to get better. These guys have done a heck of a job and it’s like this every day. Sometimes in the spring you get like you’re counting hours until you get out of here, and these guys have done a great job. But there’s a lot of competition going on which helps.”
One thing they haven’t worked on is the 6-2 two-setter system Cook ran last season. The Huskers are back to a 5-1, which they’ve used all spring. Both junior Kennedi Orr and freshman Bergen Reilly will continue battling it out for the starting setter role. Cook talked previously about the extra work and one-on-one time Orr was able to get with Cook this spring as she sat out the beach season to focus on indoor training, and described the progress she has made as “major.” On Tuesday, he also spoke highly of Reilly.
“Bergen came in here ready to compete,” Cook said. “I told her two years ago when we recruited her, ‘Come in and compete. Volleyball doesn’t know how old you are, the game doesn’t know how old you are, so come in and compete.’ She’s got a lot of talent.”
Another change from last season is that junior Lindsay Krause is now working on the left side. She started her career on the right and bounced back and forth between the two pins last season, but Cook promised her that her future would be at outside hitter and he’s kept his promise.
“She can do some really nice things,” Cook said about Krause. “But they all can. It’s been every day one of them stands out, and it’s not like one has stood out the whole spring, and it’s great competition.”
Florida transfer Merritt Beason and freshman Caroline Jurevicius look like the main contenders at opposite hitter while Krause, fellow junior Ally Batenhorst, sophomore Hayden Kubik and Murray compete at outside hitter.
Murray said the team is “super excited” about Saturday’s exhibition.
“It’s a lot of our first game and a lot of new people on the team, so I think it’s going to be a really interesting day for us,” Murray said. “A lot of new moments, new feelings, new emotions, but we’ll be fine.”
Cook said he just wants to see his team compete. He’s approaching it like a regular match and will determine a starting lineup by the end of the week.
“We’ll have a group and then I’ll try to get get everybody to play, but it just depends how the match goes … When we scrimmaged Creighton, we were playing five games, so we had a good plan with this group,” Cook said. “Then the hard thing is trying to stay warm. So we’ve got to be careful with that.”
The Huskers and Shockers will play in front of a sold-out crowd of 2000-plus at the newly-built Bison Activity Dome in Central City on Saturday. Wichita State went 18-13 last season and qualified for the NIVC, falling in the first round. The Shockers return nearly everyone form las year’s team including defensive specialist Katie Galligan, an Elkhorn South graduate.
“I’m just excited to go out there, see my cowboy friends and I get to be on [Nebraska Public Media], they’re televising it,” Cook said. “Lauren and John Baylor are going to do radio, so it’s going to feel like a big-time event. These have been really special matches when we get to go to these towns and the way they appreciate it and the way they treat us, that, to me, is the highlight.”
First serve on Saturday is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Nebraska Public Media, Big Ten Plus and the Huskers Radio Network.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.