Nebraska completed the first half of a two-week home stand over the weekend, knocking off Purdue on Friday before making short work of Indiana on Saturday. The second half begins on Wednesday as the Terrapins of Maryland are coming to Lincoln for a mid-week match.
“This week is week eight of the Big Ten, so we’re going down the stretch here,” Cook said. “We’re trying to stay on top and survive. It was a good weekend. We have Maryland — who is much improved and just came off of beating Purdue last week — Wednesday and then we’re playing Rutgers on Sunday so state high school volleyball can play their matches, and they’re on Saturday. So little bit of inconvenience for us but something we feel is worth it. Hopefully I’ll get a bonus from the high school association for that.”
The 2-0 weekend helped Nebraska (20-4, 13-1) move up one spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll, from No. 7 to No. 6. No. 1 Penn State, No. 5 Minnesota, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 10 Wisconsin and No. 21 Purdue round out the Big Ten teams in the top 25. Nebraska is currently No. 3 in the Pablo Rankings and No. 5 in the RPI.
With six matches left in the regular season, Nebraska will not face another team in the top half of the most recent Big Ten standings. However, Cook said his team isn’t thinking about it’s strength of schedule. The focus, as always, is on the next point.
“It’s our mindset,” Cook said. “We’re just worried about winning the next point. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing and that’s something that I will continue to really talk to them about. But this group has done a really, really good job of embracing that and we have enough players that know that you’ve got to be strong down the stretch. We talk about trying to win and be great. We’re trying to go from great to unstoppable in the month of November. That’s another thing that we’ll focus on.”
Last Wednesday, the NCAA Tournament selection committee released a top-10 ranking to give coaches, players and fans an early look at where teams stand heading into the stretch run of the regular season. The top three (Penn State, Nebraska, Minnesota) all came from the Big Ten, and Wisconsin cracked the back end at No. 10 as well. The Pac-12, the SEC and the Big 12 each had two teams make the cut.
“I think it’s good for volleyball; it gets people talking,” Cook said about the release. “But there are still three weeks left so we don’t really talk about it. We’re trying to get on this Big Ten thing; do well in the Big Ten, that’s our focus. The things is with our conference, if you do well in the Big Ten, you’re going to be rewarded in the NCAA Tournament with a seed. Now, you may not get a great draw … I think the committee knows how tough this conference is.”
After appearing in just one set in the previous four matches, John Cook turned to redshirt freshman setter Hunter Atherton as a serving sub over the weekend as she played in two sets in both matches.
“We can’t pass it, and neither can other teams,” Cook said. “It would be nice if she would serve in a little bit more, but she gives us something to go to because it’s such an unusual serve, so we call that a tempo two serve, which means she’s way back. She stands as far back as the court will allow her, so it’s coming a long ways. Sometimes we call that a tempo two space shuttle because it’s coming from so far. It’s different from a lot of other serves.”
Cook went on to explain what makes Atherton’s serve so tough to handle.
“A space shuttle tempo two takes longer to get to you, right?” Cook said. “So you should have more time to pass it. But what happens is if somebody can hit a really good tempo two, the ball’s in the air longer but it also has a chance to move more because it’s going through more wind and a longer distance and it tends to move more. That’s what makes it hard.”
At this point, Atherton’s serve is high-risk, high-reward. She served up three aces in the two matches but also committed seven errors.
“Hunter missed seven serves this weekend but pretty much every ball she got in they couldn’t pass,” Cook said. “We can’t pass her either; she just has to be more consistent if she wants to have big role on that.”
Wednesday’s match is set for 6 p.m. on BTN. Sunday’s match against Rutgers will begin at 2 p.m. on NET.