The Red-White Scrimmage is fast approaching, but John Cook has yet to settle on a format — or a starting lineup.
After one week of practices, competition rages on at every position as players rotate in and out while Cook looks to identify his top unit heading into 2022.
“Red-White will be a big, big test,” Cook said. “I wish we had starting lineup right now, but I couldn’t tell you who it is because one day, I think we know it, and then the next day it changes. So we’re kind of letting them compete right now and I talk about the competitive part of it and it pays to be a winner. Can you win out here?
“And so that’s one of our themes that we’re talking about is you’ve got to win. It’s not just going through practice and looking pretty, you’ve got to win. So we’re keeping score on a lot of drills, we’re keeping track of it and we talk about the importance of winning and it pays to be a winner. Of course they watched Top Gun, so the that’s one of the lines in there.”
While Nebraska still has plenty of work to do before the season opener, sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez said the Huskers are excited to be back on the practice court.
“We all came in here with so much energy,” Rodriguez said. “It feels like forever ago that we were competing, so I think as the summer got closer to getting to the end, we were all just super fired up to get back in the gym and compete with each other and it’s been a blast this last week so far.”
The Huskers have eight players returning who saw action in at least 60 sets last season and bring in a senior transfer with plenty of Big Ten experience and will head into the season as the top-ranked team in the country, but Cook hasn’t placed any sort of expectations on this team as they look to sort out roles. He’s focused on the day-to-day grind as the team prepares to get started next weekend.
“I just think about each practice, what we’ve got to get accomplished, and I have not really had any expectations or judging where we’re at,” Cook said. “It’s are we getting better, working on the things we need to work on and is their attitude and effort good? So their attitude and effort’s great, so that’s one thing that is nonnegotiable. They’re working really hard.”
This will be the second Red-White Scrimmage for the team’s sophomore class, including Rodriguez.
“I just remember that I was extremely nervous and it was the first time we were back in Bob in front of everyone so it was really exciting and I just remember it was so crazy,” Rodriguez said. “Everyone had so much fun, so it was really enjoyable for me.”
The nerves are certainly there for this year’s freshmen, including middle blocker Bekka Allick who is competing for a starting spot.
“I’m so anxious,” Allick said. “We had our first scrimmage this last weekend and I got a taste of what it’s like to really play against each other, and we were so competitive, like talking a little bit of trash. So yeah, I’m really excited. It’s definitely going to feel a lot different though with all the fans.”
Allick got a brief taste of what playing in front of the Nebraska fan base is like back in the spring as she started in the team’s exhibition match against Kansas in Grand Island. The Waverly product graduated from high school early and enrolled in January to begin preparing for her freshman season. Playing in front of a packed Devaney Center is a completely different experience, however, and the team’s veterans have tried to prepare the freshmen for what they’re going to see.
“I think it’s almost like tunnel vision, like a friendlier version of that,” Allick said. “So not completely zoning out everything, but everything just outside of the court. I’m thinking about Kenzie [Knuckles’] voice in my head right now because the way she described it, she said at one point, you just forget that everybody’s there because it’s just so loud. All you can really try and focus on is your breath and your voice as well as your teammates. But I don’t know, because I’d like to think that I’ll stay focused and I’ll be present, but I think it’s so easy to want to just take it all in.”
Allick said Cook’s expectations for the scrimmage are simple: he just wants to see them compete.
“He wants to see that [competition] high and I think because we’ve established that trust amongst each other, we can kind of talk a little bit of smack,” Allick said. “And also our biggest thing is kind of treating it like it is a really big match, almost like a championship, so we don’t really take any reps lightly.”
While Cook has not yet settled on rosters or a format, one thing will certainly change about this year’s Red-White Scrimmage: Cook’s approach leading up to it. He said multiple players — including Jordan Larson — have told him leading up to the Red-White is the most nervous they’d ever been.
“I’m going to work on how to how to mentally prepare them so they’re not nervous,” Cook said. “This is going to be a great opportunity. So I think that’s one area that we want to use as a teaching opportunity that I’ve been thinking about. So I’m going to approach it differently than we have in the past where I’m always kidding them about how nervous they are and the freshmen are going to pee on the floor and we’re going to have to have extra towels out. Now it’s going to be we’re going to mentally prepare how to go out there and perform and not worry about everything else going on.”
Another change is the implementation of a Fan Day ahead of the scrimmage. Rather than signing autographs after the match, the Huskers will head to the Devaney Center early to sign autographs and meet with fans from 10 a.m. until noon. Cook is hoping that between the Fan Day and the scrimmage, the Huskers will be able to reach a segment of the fan base that doesn’t get an opportunity to hold season tickets or make it to regular season matches.
“A lot of people can’t get tickets, so this is their one chance,” Cook said. “And then the fan day, I think we’re giving them posters, which our posters are going to be really cool. So that’ll be fun. So it’s a great way to share stuff with people that aren’t buying tickets or can’t come to the matches and so on. So we’re just trying to hit all of our fans. And one of these press conferences I’m going to wear my Crusty’s Arthur, Nebraska Co-Op hat, just sort of representing the West.”
Parking at the Devaney Center will be available in lots 58 and 60 for Fan Day. Fans will use the north doors — which will open right at 10 — to enter the building. Nebraska is asking fans to limit signing to one item per person and to refrain from asking for pictures to expedite the process.
First serve for the Red-White Scrimmage is set for 6 p.m. CT.
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.