LINCOLN, Neb. – With a weekend sweep of two top five foes, top-ranked Nebraska volleyball is one step closer to the Big Ten Championship. At the halfway point of conference play, the Huskers are tied with Penn State at 9-1
“It’s something that they have not accomplished,” Cook said. “We know how hard it is to win it and it’s only been done by one other team here. Part of their thing is they want to make history, do what’s never been done before. That was kind of their whole theme this summer and winning the Big Ten is one of those things.”
Where would pulling off winning both the Big Ten and the national championship rank among greatest accomplishments in Nebraska volleyball history?
“It would be at the top, probably,” Cook said.
>> Nebraska managed to emerge unscathed from a tough five-set match with No. 3 Minnesota on Sunday after sweeping No. 4 Wisconsin on Friday. Last season, the Huskers went 0-2 against those two teams in the same weekend.
“We very easily could have won that match 3-0 against Minnesota,” Cook said. “I think we’ll take confidence from that, but I’m going to remind them of all of the things that we have to do better. This will also be a challenge. Last year we felt like on this day, the wheels had come off. We felt we were in complete disarray, the wheels had come off, and they responded. The challenge is going to be how are they going to respond after having success. Are we going to continue to work hard or do we think we’ve got it made now and we had a big weekend so we can just go on cruise control?”
>> Senior outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen struggled throughout the match against the Gophers, yet when the Huskers needed her the most, she stepped up to the service line and led the Huskers back from down 24-21 in the third set with a 5-0 run. Rolfzen had already committed three service errors at that point, but she didn’t let that affect her.
“It’s a huge statement,” Cook said. “All the work that she’s done the last three years to get to that point and that’s what makes her a premier player on our team and in the country and in the conference, that she can struggle and still find ways to win.”
>> Friday’s sweep over Wisconsin offered some comic relief as 5-foot-8 defensive specialist ended up in the front row after the Huskers ran out of substitutions and had to leave her in the game. The coaches told Annika Albrecht not to check in for her normal rotation so they could save their final sub to get Mikaela Foecke in for Maloney, but Abrecht forgot and ran up the to the substitution line as she normally would. Cook said they had to play three or four points with Maloney up front.
“This is typical Kenzie, because she played club against [Wisconsin’s Lauren] Gillis, and she goes, ‘I told Gillis all the time, she should have set me,’ because she was a hitter in club,” Cook said. “She was their L1 in club and she was really good. She’s got the highest vertical on our team. We probably should have set her.”
>> Libero Justine Wong-Orantes is the leader, Maloney is the starter and Albrecht is a hybrid hitter/defensive specialist, but Cook said junior Sydney Townsend is also a vital part of the team’s back row.
“[Sydney is] really important,” Cook said. “She played great this weekend. We probably ran more points with her serving than any other rotation and she made great digs, she made a great set. She’s very under-noticed, but we certainly know the role that she has and she’s told all the time how valuable she is.”
Cook said Townsend is a great defensive player and server in practice and going against her every day has really helped the hitters to improve. Townsend has also been the team’s best server, statistically.
With four seniors on the team who will be moving on after this season, Cook said they are preparing Townsend and Albrecht to step into even bigger roles next season.
“Sydney and Anni are two that we’re developing to be leaders next year,” Cook said. “We’ve talked to them about that and Sydney is kind of the mother hen of the whole team and Anni is just fun, sarcastic, tells jokes, laughs, is kind of goofy and keeps everybody loose. She’s the only player that calls me by my first name ever in the history of Nebraska Volleyball. They have huge roles in our team chemistry and dynamics and they’re both just really good people and care a lot about Nebraska volleyball.”
How does Cook feel about Albrecht calling him “John?”
“I love it,” Cook said. “I always ask them, ‘Why don’t you guys call me by my first name?’ I know Minnesota calls Hugh [McCutcheon] Hugh and most other players and coaches call them by their first names. I always ask them, they go ‘well, we don’t feel comfortable.’ … It’s a Nebraska thing I think with Coach Osborne; it’s always been that way. Even Lindsay [Peterson] still calls me Coach, unless she’s mad at me, then she calls me by my first name.”
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.