Tuesday marked the first day of preseason practice for the Nebraska volleyball team and the Huskers dove right into camp with a pair of practices, morning and afternoon.
The Huskers have three weeks to prepare for the season-opener against Utah State on Aug. 25 and a lot to squeeze into that time as Coach John Cook looks to solidify his lineup on a team with several freshman pushing for immediate playing time. Fortunately, the entire freshman class enrolling early and the extra practices that came with the team’s trip to Brazil provided the coaches to do a lot of installation and teaching in the spring, allowing the team to hit the ground running on day one of fall practice.
Though the team is without a senior on its roster and will likely be relying on multiple freshmen in key roles, the standard at Nebraska remains the same and the uptime goal remains unchanged: a national championship.
“That’s always the goal every year, no matter the team that we have put together,” junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause said. “And I feel like since all five of them have been here since January, that goal that we have has been at the forefront of all of our minds and it’s been something that we haven’t shied away from talking about because it’s a very realistic goal. I feel like getting them here earlier really helped get them acclimated to the program, the way our program runs, our expectations of the program, and all of that helps.”
John Cook highlights the importance of serve, pass and defense consistently and Tuesday’s practice plan reflected that belief as the team didn’t even start taking swings until the last 90 minutes or so of the roughly five hours of practice. The first practice focused heavily on serving and passing as the male graduate managers handled most of the swings during drill work.
Cook called one fundamental serving drill the most important drill of the day and provided a key phrase to focus on: “stretch and pop-and-drop,” referring to the server stretching her arm, popping the ball and dropping her hand.
Cook said his goal for two-a-days like Tuesday is always to identify the best passers and servers.
Midway through the practice, Cook gather the team in and instructed them to close their eyes for 30 seconds and say something positive to themselves.
Blocking was a big focus for a large chunk of the second practice as well with a handful of different blocking drills strung together. The coaches stressed the footwork and timing as players simulated blocking early before progressing to the real thing.
Prior to the stretching period for the second practice, the team warmed up with an out-of-system setting drill, and Cook said 40% of the game is out of system.
Eventually, the team started taking swings, rotating through various drills. One of them tasked the pins with hitting against a blocking board with hands extending from the top as Cook challenged his players to work on different shots. At the same time, the middles took turns hitting off the setters.
The squad progressed to six-on-six work from there, first against a B side of primarily graduate managers before the final competitive team period of the day featured a more traditional scrimmaging environment without serving. What appeared to be the A side (though it looked like more of a mix than a true starters versus back-ups situation) fell behind 8-4 before rallying to win the drill 15-10. The earlier six-on-six work featured more or less equal reps as players rotated through at every position and the team repped out different rotations.
Junior setter Kennedi Orr practiced in full during the first practice before sitting out the second, which provided freshman Bergen Reilly an opportunity to absorb all of the setting reps. Orr spent some time working on the side with director of olympic sports performance Brian Kmitta during the practice and was court side for the scrimmage, encouraging her teammates form the sideline. Cook emphasized to the hitters the importance of providing feedback to Reilly about location and tempo after each of her sets, whether it be correction or praise.
The final drill of the day was a competitive serve-and-pass drill, however, as Cook offered a final reminder of the program’s foundations.