Tuesday was a day of celebration at the Devaney Center for the Nebraska volleyball team.
Coach John Cook was celebrating his birthday — he wouldn’t say which one, “I don’t know; day by day” — but director of volleyball operations Lindsay Peterson surprised him with a cake as the team wrapped up practice.
It was a carrot cake, Cook’s favorite, and one of the newest Huskers baked it. Maisie Boesiger, an in-state walk on from Norris who enrolled in January, has her own baking business called Maisie’s Pastries. Cook said he’s already taken advantage of her talents to treat prospective recruits during campus visits.
Before the cake and singing, however, the Huskers had to take care of business. The spring practice season is nearing its end as Saturday’s exhibition match against Kansas draws closer and closer. This is the team’s first full spring since 2019 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Cook had to look back at his notes to remind himself how to structure things. He had to go back all the way to 2017 before he could find notes that were useful.
Cook didn’t have any news to share regarding Kayla Caffey’s status. He and Caffey still haven’t made a final decision about the middle blocker playing another season at Nebraska and called it a “match-time” determination whether or not she’ll play on Saturday. To provide middle blocker depth, Callie Schwarzenbach will join the team on Saturday. She’s continuing to train with the team while she finishes out the semester. She’ll play her fifth season at Long Beach State next year.
Cook said it hasn’t been difficult navigating the spring despite Caffey’s uncertain future.
“We just come in here and whoever’s in here to train, we go,” Cook said. “We’ve been fortunate this spring because we graduated two players basically. We can go six on six, so that’s a big advantage. Everybody’s getting a lot of playing time and a lot of reps and it’s been good. We’re able to go really hard because of that in the spring. For typical spring, sometimes you may not even have 12 players. In fact, most springs you don’t.”
The Huskers will face the Kansas Jayhawks in an exhibition at the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island to cap their spring, their first spring exhibition since the 2019 season.
“The goal is to go out and share our team with somewhere in western Nebraska, so that’s the first priority,” Cook said. “The fact that it’s sold out, we get a chance to play in front of a big crowd, we’re getting to play Kansas, which is great. And for us, I think it’s just a good reward for the end of the spring to be able to go play a match. We know we’re going to have to sign autographs for a long time afterward, but it’s more of a celebration for volleyball in the state and for the Kansas players and our players to get to play in front of a big crowd, which typically you just go scrimmage somebody and there’s nobody there. It’ll be good for our younger players to get in front of that environment and that crowd. But it’s really a celebration of volleyball.”
Cook is excited to take his program back on the road. The Huskers were previously scheduled for an exhibition in Grand Island a couple years ago but had to cancel it because of the pandemic. Cook said he could hold up to four exhibition matches in the spring, but he prefers limiting it to one and making it a big deal and enjoys showing off the program around the state.
“It sold out in eight minutes, so that tells you how fired up people are,” Cook said. “That’s it right there. The problem is a lot of people get upset because they can’t get tickets. It’s hard to get tickets here and then you have spring thinking they can get them; we don’t handle the tickets, the people out there do. I feel bad for that, that we can’t get more people in there, but it’s a big deal to those towns.
“The last last trip was McCook, and I still run into people all the time that were at that match in McCook or are from McCook who talk about it. We’ve got cities already lining up for the next couple of years, requesting us to come there. So it’s really important. I’ve got this horse thing going with Bud, and again, part of the reason I’m doing this is connecting with the western part, the agricultural part of the state. And I think it’s really, really important. It’s not just Lincoln, Omaha, club volleyball, it’s this entire state that is part of Nebraska volleyball.”
Anni Evans, an in-state product from Waverly, shares Cook’s belief in the importance of keeping the whole state engaged in Nebraska volleyball.
“I think it’s super important to go, especially out west because I know it’s pretty far to come to games in Lincoln how many times a week,” Evans said. “So I think it’s really special for all of us, even though none of us are really from out there, but I think it’s really special that we get to bring the love of Nebraska everywhere because they support us so much. I think just being able to give to them out there is really important.”
The Huskers made it through the beach season in mostly good health, although sophomore setter Kennedi Williams did miss a couple of weeks with swelling in her knee. Cook said she’s a “little bit behind” but has been doing some good things as well. SHe’ll be good to go for the exhibition and Cook is hoping to get everyone some playing time in the match.
“Our goal is to try to play everybody Saturday,” Cook said. “So we’ll see. The problem is we’ve got that many players. We were trying to work on some lineups today and it’s just hard. So we’ve got to kind of figure that out. We’ve got a couple more days.”
First serve on Saturday is set for 5 p.m. on Saturday and it will be a traditional, best-of-five match with autograph signings to follow. Nebraska Public Media will televise the match.
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.