No. 7 Nebraska completed a 2-0 road trip through Michigan with a little help from Uber and now sits at 18-4 overall and 11-1 in Big Ten play.
The Huskers defeated No. 9 Michigan State 3-1 for the second time this season on Friday night, then headed to Ann Arbor as the Huskers were set to play Michigan on Sunday. However, the Huskers had to get creative to make it to the arena for the match.
“It all started on Saturday,” Coach John Cook said. “Our bus wouldn’t start so they jumped it, and the guy thought it was fixed. Then Sunday morning, we get up and of course it won’t start. They’re trying to jump it, it won’t start. The next thing I know a tow truck is towing our bus away. Lindsay Petersen went into boss lady mode and we started whipping up Ubers.”
Cook said the Nebraska travel party was close to 30 people and included plenty of equipment as well. Their caravan of "eight or nine" Ubers included everything from compact cars to minivans. It was not the first time Cook and his team have run into travel problems while on the road.
“A few years ago we got stuck on the interstate coming from East Lansing,” Cook said. “There was a traffic accident and everything was backed up. We didn’t get there until about 45 minutes before the match started. But we won 3-0 in that one too so maybe warm-ups are overrated.”
Despite their struggles getting there, once they made it to the arena the Huskers locked in and swept the Wolverines 25-22, 25-18, 25-13 on Sunday.
“We always have a mantra, ‘the great ones adjust,’” Cook said. “So we just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got to adjust.’ But we don’t make a big deal about it and they adjust. I’m high-drama enough on all these trips. I complain enough that it goes in one ear and out the other anyway. I always make it like it’s was worse than it is. I think that rallies them together. But Lindsay does a great job of taking charge. Farm girl; the tractor broke and she fixed it right there.”
Sunday’s match was special for one Husker in particular as senior middle blocker Allie Havers, a native of Mattawan, Michigan, took the court for the first time at the end of the third set. Cook said he went into the match hoping he’d have a chance to get Havers into the game.
“I actually dreamed about it in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep,” Cook said. “I saw all of her family there at Michigan State and I knew she would have a huge group at Michigan, it just kind of hit me that if we could ever get her in, we should do it. I didn’t know we were going to run 13 straight or whatever it was, but I was thinking about, as we get a big lead, trying to get her in at the end of that game. I know it meant a lot to her.”
Havers joined the team this season after wrapping up her Husker basketball career last year. She has been a valuable practice player but had not gotten a chance to play in a match prior to Sunday.
“She’s done a great job for us,” Cook said. “She’s fulfilled her role. She’s a great teammate. She gave me a big hug after the match and said thank you, because I know that meant a lot to her. It was cool; she got a big cheer.”
After the Wolverines hit a blistering .465 against Iowa on Friday night, the Huskers held Michigan to .046 on Sunday.
“We just prepared really well Saturday,” Cook said. “We knew how well they hit — I don’t even think we hit .465 in our warm-ups with no blocks and just tossing free balls. We make enough errors it probably puts us around .465. To do that in a game against Iowa is impressive, so we told our team this was going to be a great challenge.
“They rose up to the challenge, followed our game plan great and we were able to get on their tendencies and shut down Carly Skjodt who’s been on fire and [Cori] Crocker’s been on fire and the other middle, Claire Kieffer-Wright, is always giving us fits. They did a really good job of shutting those guys down.”
Junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke totaled 27 kills with just three errors over the weekend, continuing a streak that has seen her put up big numbers with terrific efficiency. Foecke has accounted for 68 kills with just 13 errors (.257 hitting), and that includes a 17-kill, seven-error match against Illinois. She has committed just one error in four of her last six matches.
Her performance earned her co-Big Ten Player of the Week along with Penn State middle blocker Haleigh Washington.
“She’s killing the ball and being low-error,” Cook said. “She’s been passing really well, serving really well. She’s developing into a six-rotation player. I told you it’s going to be a process, but I think she now has confidence that she can do all those things and it’s not as much work mentally for her. I think that’s why her hitting has been improving because she’s getting more comfortable with doing those other things.”
Cook said Foecke is starting to settle into her new role at just the right time as the Huskers are preparing for the stretch run of the regular season.
“It’s playing with confidence and not being stressed and playing loose,” Cook said. “When you’re worried about all these other things, it just takes a while for that to happen. It’s a nice time for her to be raising her level. We need it.”
The top seven in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll remained steady with the Huskers holding strong at No. 7. Penn State is still No.1 while Minnesota is No. 5. Wisconsin and Michigan State each moved up one spot and are now right behind Nebraska at Nos. 8 and 9, respectively.
Next up for the Huskers is a home stand starting with No. 22 Purdue (17-6, 7-5) on Friday at 7 p.m. The following night at 7:30 p.m., Nebraska will take on Indiana (12-12, 1-11). Both matches are available on BTN Plus.
“It will be nice to be at home this weekend and with football here it always makes it electric,” Cook said. “I’m looking forward to another big Husker weekend. We have to keep grinding through this conference.”
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.