After a three-match road swing to open Big Ten play, including the longest trip in the conference to take on Rutgers, No. 2 Nebraska (11-1, 3-0) used Thursday was something of a maintenance day.
“Today was about recovery, so the starters who played last night basically went 40 minutes in here and then we did yoga,” Coach John Cook said after Thursday afternoon’s practice. “The players who didn’t play, they got to kind of scrimmage a little bit so they stay sharp. But it’s about recovery and trying to get them fresh so we can go hard tomorrow and prepare for Wisconsin. It’s part of the deal. Wisconsin’s been at home for three matches and now this is their first road match.
“Rutgers is the toughest trip in the conference, for us going to Rutgers and Rutgers coming here, there’s no longer trip, there’s no farther difference. Newark is a way harder airport, you have to fly in there and go through all their security. It takes us an hour just to get through the dang airport … That is the hardest trip to go, and I think at game time was 94 degrees or 96 degrees in the gym. We’re building some resiliency, I can tell you that.”
Two of Nebraska’s first three Big Ten matches have come in gyms lacking air conditioning — at No. 20 Illinois being the other — yet the Huskers have made it back to Lincoln unblemished. Now they’ll face their toughest test yet two weeks into league play as No. 13 Wisconsin (7-4) comes to town for a Saturday night showdown.
Wisconsin went .500 in nonconference play, but all four losses came to top-20 teams and the Badgers have opened up Big Ten play 3-0 with wins over No. 15 Purdue, Indiana and No. 5 Penn State.
“They’re legit,” Cook said. “With the amount of people they return, they should be expected to be one of the top teams in the country.”
For Nebraska, the Stanford match was a measuring stick for this year’s team. The Wisconsin match, however, is just another day in the Big Ten.
“What we talk about each week in the Big Ten is the ante goes up, it gets to be tougher competition, teams are playing better and here we go,” Cook said. “This will be our first Big Ten home match. We’ve been on the road for three and we survived those, and now they get to play at home against a great team. But this is going to happen next week and the week after; this doesn’t stop in the Big Ten.”
Two-time first-team All-American middle blocker Dana Rettke leads the charge for the Badgers, who are second in the conference in hitting at .274. At 6-foot-8, Rettke is fourth in the Big Ten in kills per set at 4.03, fourth in hitting percentage at .418 and eighth in blocks per set at 1.23.
“Wisconsin’s got Rettke — you can do everything right and she’s still probably going to kill the ball,” Cook said. “When that happens we’ve got to match it and sideout again right back, and that’s going to be the key: can we find ways to sideout with them, and then find ways to touch her, slow her down and win a couple big points to get the crowd into it?”
Teams have hit .222 against Wisconsin, bottom in the league, but the Badgers held Penn State to .167 overall and dominated the last two sets, 25-13 and 25-13, en route to a 3-1 win.
Junior setter Sydney Hilley was a preseason All-Big Ten pick and is second in the conference in assists per set at 11.33. Junior outside hitters Grace Loberg and Molly Haggerty are chipping in 3.31 kills apiece while senior libero Tiffany Clark is leading the defense with 3.62 digs per set.
Any time two top-15 teams square off, it’s a big match. Last season’s five-set loss against Wisconsin in Madison only ups the intensity for Saturday night. However, big as it is, Cook said he sees it as just another match.
“I try to treat them all the same, but I can tell you our players and fans will be up for this,” Cook said. “I think we’ve had some great matches with Wisconsin. They know how good they are, they know the players, they beat us last year so yeah, it’s got a little extra motivation I think. But I’ve got to treat everything the same because otherwise we’ll be all over the map. Our job is to try to take it one at a time, do our best, prepare, play hard and then we’ve got to shake it off and move on, win or lose.”
Sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis did not play in Nebraska’s match at Rutgers on Wednesday. According to the radio broadcast, she was “under the weather.” However, Cook said she practiced on Thursday and is hopeful that she’ll be good to go, assuming she does well in Friday’s practice.
First serve is set for 7 p.m. CT at the Devaney Center and BTN will televise the match. Nebraska has encouraged fans to arrive early to avoid post-football traffic. The doors will open at 5:30 the the football game will be shown on the TVs on the concourse.
Parking notes courtesy of Nebraska:
>> Volleyball donor parking permit holders will be able to park in their lot at any point after 6 a.m. with their volleyball permit, and there will be no cashier fee.
>> Volleyball public parking spaces and handicap parking in Lots 52 and 58 will not be cashiered to the general public until 4 p.m. on Saturday.
>> Football fans who would generally cashier to park at the Devaney Center/Innovation Campus will not be permitted to do so for this football game. Volleyball fans who plan to cashier park for football and know they will walk back over to the volleyball match afterward will not be able to cashier on the Devaney Center/Innovation campus lots until 4 p.m.
>> Beginning at 4 p.m., the cashiered fee for volleyball lots will be $7.
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.