Nebraska is more than halfway through its preseason practice, yet the competition for starting spots rages on. Coach John Cook said after practice on Wednesday that he still would have a tough time naming starters just a few days before the team’s annual Red-White Scrimmage.
“There are a lot of really close battles right now for who will start, I think,” Cook said. “I really couldn’t tell you. I think Red-White is going to show us a lot. That’s kind of going to be, I think, the first really big test for these guys.”
Nebraska held its own intra-squad scrimmage in practice last Saturday to give the Huskers a taste of organized competition, but the intensity steps up a level this weekend as 8,000 fans will pick the Devaney Center. The Red-White Scrimmage is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday. Cook said he hasn’t decided yet how to split up the teams, though he’s hoping to get a competitive match.
“I want to see high-level volleyball and see us compete,” Cook said. “I’m going to try to make two even teams and let them go at it. These guys love to compete, so I want to now do it in front of 8,000 people.”
The Huskers’ five freshman all got a taste of playing in front of Nebraska fans during the team’s exhibition against Wayne State back in the spring, but that was at the Bison Activity Dome in Central City with a capacity just shy of 2,100. On Saturday, they’ll play in front of a crowd four times that size.
“I know it’s going to be amazing,” freshman middle blocker Andi Jackson said. “I’ve been to multiple games and just the atmosphere, I already know it’s going to be up and rowdy. So there’s definitely some nerves there but I’m more excited than anything … Just playing with all the girls, I know that it’s going to be an amazing experience, especially for us freshmen. We are really looking forward to just being in that atmosphere and getting to experience it as a player.”
While freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy is excited about the atmosphere, she’s looking forward to the match itself even more.
“Oh my gosh, our team is just so competitive and I know we’re going to go at each other and it’s going to be so fun to watch,” Choboy said. “I’m super excited for the high-level competition because we practice against each other, but when you’re in the game it’s just different.”
Though Nebraska has five freshmen and six newcomers in all, all of them have been on campus since January and have gone through a full spring plus the team’s trip to Brazil and the practices that preceded it. Cook took advantage of that time to install most of the teams drills and establish the practice standard for the newcomers, which means they’ve been able to hit the ground running with preseason practices.
“We’re spending a lot of time on everything, but we’re spending more time on just trying to diversify our offense a little bit, especially coordinating front row and back row, which takes time,” Cook said. “We had a scrimmage on Saturday and our front row people’s percentages were great, but our back row wasn’t very good. It just reminds me, it takes time to develop that because it’s just different angles off the net, you’ve got to watch the 10-foot line, the timing’s a little bit different, the hitters have to know when to go. A lot of times that’s in transition, and they may be on the ground or whatever.
“So we’re just really trying to work hard on incorporating or balancing or whatever you want to call it, connecting on front row and back row attacks, especially when we’re in the 5-1. That’s what we spent a lot of time on. Otherwise it’s fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals.”
Cook often describes preseason practice as a three-week sprint to the season-opener with so much to accomplish, but he also doesn’t want to put too much on the athletes’ plate too quickly. Nebraska has mixed it up between two-a-days and single practices, and on Wednesday they wrapped up about half an hour early as the team looks to pace itself a bit with just over a week until the season-opener.
“It’s very hard, I think, especially in 6v6,” Choboy said. “They don’t tell us to calm down; we’re all just going to go out there and give it our all, but today, we had one practice. We ended a little bit early and I think that’s just trying to save ourselves mentally and physically, and we have a big season coming up.”
One of the various position battles is at setter between junior Kennedi Orr and freshman Bergen Reilly. Nebraska practiced twice on the first day they were allowed, Aug. 8, with Orr sitting out the second period with what Cook said was a minor issue. However, she’s been full-go ever since and the two setters have gotten plenty of reps each.
“The setters put in the most work of anybody because they’ve got to do everything plus set, which we’ve got to find time to give them extra setting reps …They just need as many reps as we can possibly give them,” Cook said. “The setters really have to grind.”
One mark in Reilly’s favor is Cook said she’s probably graded out as the best setter on the team through the first week and a half of practice.
Before fans see the 2023 Huskers play for the first time this season on Saturday, they’ll get a chance to meet them as Nebraska is once again hosting its Fan Day event earlier in the day. The players will be meeting with fans and signing autographs from 10 to noon.