After an eventful weekend in San Diego, the Huskers are back in Lincoln and looking forward to hosting the Ameritas Players Challenge at the Devaney Center.
The Huskers went 2-0 at the SDSU/USD Challenge in San Diego, though it was anything but a vacation. Nebraska beat Arizona in four sets on Friday then had to battle back from a 2-1 hole to beat No. 25 San Diego in five.
“It was really good to be back in San Diego,” said Coach John Cook, a San Diego alumnus. “Lexi [Sun] had quite a big contingency there. I got to see former players, coaches, tour the old school I went to and shoot hoops in the old gym I used to play basketball in, but USD’s changed quite a bit. We had a great match with them Saturday night and being able to pull that out when it didn’t look like we were going to win that match hopefully is going to give our team some confidence and know that they can be pretty resilient and fight through it.
“USD’s a very good team and they’ll be in the tournament and I’m sure they’ll compete for their championship in their conference. It was a very challenging weekend and we feel pretty good about coming out of that 2-0.”
The Huskers remained at No. 2 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll, though Stanford received all 64 first-place votes after Nebraska got one last week. San Diego dropped out of the rankings but is still second among others receiving votes.
Nebraska closed the fourth set on a 4-0 run after falling behind 22-21 and Cook said he’s still trying to figure out how the Huskers were able to turn it around.
“I don’t know how we won the fourth game; it didn’t look good and then we pulled that out,” Cook said. “And then the fifth game, we did some good things we did some not so good things, but we made a couple plays. I’ll credit Lauren, had a great fifth game; Jazz had a great fifth game; Nicklin kind of went to another level and Callie had a huge kill for us. We executed well and we just got a couple points ahead and were able to keep that cushion and keep the pressure on San Diego. We had no errors in game five; I think we had 3,582 in the first three games but we had zero errors in game five. Again, it’s on the road and these guys are learning how to compete.”
It may have been a road match, but the huskers were the ones with a home-court advantage as Husker fans showed up in force.
You think Husker fans show up? pic.twitter.com/qhFcqSMTtw
— John Cook (@jcook2) September 8, 2019
“I knew we’d have some fans,” Cook said. “I didn’t know we’d have that many. But I think a lot of our fans—it was San Diego so I’m starting to think when we schedule places, if we go to cool places—Hawaii, San Diego, Seattle, Austin—our fans will travel. I saw a lot of fans that brought their kids, so I think it was just like ‘Hey, we’re going to take a quick vacation to San Diego, watch the Huskers play and go to the zoo.’ We definitely out-drew San Diego. Husker nation. I think they all stayed at our hotel too because there were Husker people everywhere. It was cool.”
Cook said the most impressive part of the comeback for him was how the team, despite all the newcomers, stayed together when things got tough.
“The thing that I saw that I complimented them on after the match was I just saw how, when we got to the fifth game, how unified and together they were and how much they were playing for each other,” Cook said. “It was pretty cool to see this, like ‘We’re going to do this together.’ Just how tight they pulled together. That’s the one thing I learned and we can play at a really high level when we’re dialed in.”
The San Diego match was the first five-setter of the season for the young Huskers and Cook said it was a valuable learning experience for them. So far this season Nebraska is 4-0 with two wins over ranked opponents.
“As a coach you always want to see your team push through something, get to the top of the mountain, push through a tough time, because that’s what builds their resiliency a little bit and gives them that deep confidence,” Cook said. “You can’t create that in practice. You can tell them how great they are and how well they’re doing, but until they go through it . . . You’re looking for big wins early in the year to help build that confidence; any time you can get those, they’re big confidence-builders, especially for as young a team as we have.”
Next up for the Huskers is a return to the Devaney Center to host the annual Ameritas Players Challenge.
“It’s three what we think are NCAA Tournament teams: High Point, Denver and Loyola Marymount,” Cook said. “Loyola Marymount, Natalie Morgan who used to work with us is an assistant coach there; she was one of our grad managers. So they’re coming back and they’re from the same conference as San Diego, so we kind of know what to expect there, very competitive. Denver is picked to win the Summit League and High Point has been in the tournament.”
The Huskers will open tournament play against High Point on Friday at noon then will return to the court to face Denver at 7:30 p.m. They’ll wrap things u against Loyola Marymount on Saturday at 1 p.m.
“It’s going to be three matches, it’s crammed into about 26 hours because football’s at night,” Cook said. “It will be a challenge. We’re going to try to probably use more players just to pace ourselves through that. Friday matinee, so hopefully people take off of work.”
Other news and notes:
>> Cook said sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis, who did not make the trip to San Diego after a strong performance the previous week, is dealing with an abdominal strain.
“It’s an ab pull, so who the hell knows?” Cook said. “The thing is, it could be tomorrow, it could be I don’t know. They’re kind of funky.”
>> In nine sets over the weekend, San Diego area native Lexi Sun averaged 4.0 kills (.333 hitting) and 2.22 digs while chipping in 7 blocks and 3 aces. Sun hit just .149 with six errors in Nebraska’s season-opener against Creighton but has hit over .300 in her three matches since.
“My question to her is can she play this entire season as inspired as she was this weekend,” Cook said. “I saw another level in her in how she played and how she competed. It was a lot of fun to see and I know that was really important for her to go back there. Her family thanked us for coming back to San Diego. But she was at another level.”
>> Sun was the primary reason the Huskers went to play in San Diego, which is a major part of how Cook determines nonconference road trips. He said the Huskers will travel to Dallas next season because of the two Texas natives (Capri Davis and Nicole Drewnick) on the roster. The Huskers will also compete in a four-team event over the next four years with Stanford, Louisville and Kentucky that includes one home match and one away match each year. Louisville and Lexington are both within a four-hour drive of sophomore setter Nicklin Hames’ home town of Maryville, Tennessee.
>> This week saw plenty of upset across the country in volleyball and the Bg Ten in particular was hit hard. Nebraska and No. 4 Penn State (up from No. 6 last week) were the only ranked Big Ten teams who escaped the week without a loss.
Wisconsin (2-2) dropped from No. 4 to No. 9 after losing to No. 11 Marquette and No. 17 Baylor. Illinois (2-2) dropped from No. 5 to No. 14 after losing to No. 16 Washington and unranked Colorado. Minnesota (2-2) held steady at No. 8 after losing to No. 3 Texas. Michigan (4-2) fell from No. 14 to No. 24 after a 1-2 weekend that included losses to Missouri and Dayton. No. 18 Purdue (2-1) dropped to No. 23 after a five-set loss to Notre Dame. Iowa and Maryland, who were among the others receiving votes last week, both lost as well and fell out entirely.
“I’ve been saying college volleyball is getting more and more competitive,” Cook said. “There’s more and more talent across the board. There are more teams that think they can win. You better bring it every weekend. Look at Creighton: we beat Creighton here in four, they didn’t play great, we played OK, look at the weekend they just had. I’m pretty fired up about how Nebraska’s representing college volleyball. You've got to bring it every week, every match, because it’s getting very, very competitive. Look at Marquette, Baylor, some of these teams now are kind of emerging out of the shadows a little bit and are going to be big-time teams this year.”
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.