After some rough sailing to close out the nonconference, No. 9 Nebraska has righted the ship and is playing at an incredibly high level. The Huskers are in first place at 8-0 and near the top of the league in most statistical categories.
Now, as Nebraska approaches the halfway point of the Big Ten, its focus is on keeping this thing rolling.
“We’re like an Indy car, you’ve just got to fine-tune it all the time,” Coach John Cook said. “So we’re just trying to fine-tune and find a point here a point there, another ace here, another block. So that’s what we’re working on, trying to find a way to maintain our level of play and keep getting better.”
Callie Schwarzenbach said Cook has talked to the team a lot about being “bulletproof” — showing resiliency regardless of opponent. Nebraska will take on the bottom team in the Big Ten on Wednesday and then the schedule ramps up significantly with three straight ranked foes for the first time since that three-match losing streak to close out nonconference play.
“We just flow — we use that a lot,” Schwarzenbach said. “When we flow, everyone’s kind of playing their best and trusting each other and having fun and it’s so much easier. I think going into this week we need to continue to have that in the back of our head, especially with the last games that we have played like that, to realize like, ‘OK, we know what we can do, and we know how to play — just go in and have fun.’”
Cook said the Huskers have done well to adopt that bulletproof mentality as the most consistent thing about his team has been the effort they’ve brought to each game. They’ve taken the right mindset and brought it in each and every match.
That includes Schwarzenbach, who has been in and out of the lineup yet has responded each time Cook has called her number. The 6-foot-5 middle blocker started her first two seasons before playing in a rotation with Kayla Caffey last year. She opened the year as a starter while Lauren Stivrins worked her way back into game shape, though Stivrins still had a significant impact from the sideline during that time.
“I think, with her being off the court, she was able to help us in different ways and perspectives unlike how she was used to being on the court all the time, so she was still really helpful and had that leadership role when she was off the court,” Schwarzenbach said. “But when she came back and was able to play, she just brought so much confidence which is really helpful for everyone on the team, everyone feeds off of it. I think it just really shows how much of a captain and leader she is on this team.”
Schwarzenbach said she was really excited when Stivrins made her return to the court, even though it meant a reduced role for her.
“I want the best for the team, and she’s what we need for the team to be better and she brings so many different things that I can’t and vice versa,” Schwarzenbach said. “So I think, for her being able to play and help out the team, especially for our goals and aspirations for the season, it’s just crucial.”
Schwarzenbach did not play against Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State with Stivrins making her return, but she was back out there next to Stivrins in Nebraska’s last three matches with Caffey feeling under the weather.
Schwarzenbach said she makes sure to stay locked in during film study so she is ready to play whether she’s in the starting lineup or not, and her teammates make it easy for her.
“Building relationships, especially with a lot of the girls, even the babies (the freshmen), I don’t know, it’s just such a fun group to be around and everyone wants each other to succeed so when anyone goes in there’s just so much love and trust and doesn’t seem like we’re on edge,” Schwarzenbach said. “It’s easy just to go in and have fun.”
Despite only playing in 14 matches and 49 sets, Schwarzenbach is leading the team in both blocks (63) and blocks per set (1.29), and continues to climb up Nebraska’s career blocks list.
“Callie’s started a lot of matches this year,” Cook said. “They have that group and Kalynn Meyer hasn’t played that much but they’re all rotating in there so they all feel confident if they go in. They all get trained the same, so there’s no one person gets more than another. We’re training a team and a culture.”
Cook said Caffey had a great practice on Tuesday, so Nebraska could be back at full strength against Iowa on Wednesday. Though she’s not the most vocal of players, Schwarzenbach said that, whether she’s on the court or not, she wants to continue to be a sounding board for her teammates throughout the season.
“I would say just being older on the team now, I feel like I can bring different perspective,” Schwarzenbach said. “I am a completely different player than I was my freshman year, so just being able to give insight and feedback to the younger ones, even older ones too, just on how I’ve become the player I am now and how much more I enjoy the sport as well. Just kind of giving them that feedback and hopefully a little insight on what it can look like with a correct attitude.”
The Huskers will make the short trip to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes (2-16, 0-8 Big Ten) for the second time this season. Nebraska swept Iowa at the Devaney Center on Sept. 25 in their conference home-opener.
First serve on Wednesday is set for 7 p.m. on Big Ten Network+.
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.