LINCOLN, Neb. – Fresh off a 2-0 weekend, the Huskers (20-1, 11-1) remained the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll while Minnesota and Wisconsin jumped back up to No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.
Nebraska swept Illinois on Friday, but lost senior libero Justine Wong-Orantes for Saturday’s game against Northwestern after she took a hard shot to the head late in the third set against the Illini. Coach John Cook said he did not have any update on her status as of Monday’s 11 a.m. press conference.
For more on how the Huskers did with Wong-Orantes out of the lineup, check out our latest weekly premium volleyball post. Cook said the Huskers will be ready to go whether Wong-Orantes can play on Saturday or if sophomore Kenzie Maloney will have to fill in for her like she did against Northwestern.
“We’re always training everybody to be in there,” Cook said. “We’ll put a little more focus on the passing relationships with Sydney [Townsend] in there [in Maloney’s normal spot]; they were really smooth the other night. Like I said, we’re always rotating people and they’re always working next to each other, so it’s a pretty smooth transition.”
With the defensive specialists each moving up a spot on the depth chart, sophomore Brooke Smith got an opportunity to serve and dished out two aces.
“She did awesome,” Cook said. “I know she’s always waiting for her opportunity to go in and every time we’ve put her in she’s done great. That is a player that prepares every day like she’s going to play and that’s what I really admire about her. Every day she brings it in practice. I cannot tell you one day that I thought Brooke did not bring it and give everything she had in practice. She’s always preparing, whether it’s played tomorrow, this weekend, a year from now. She understands the process, and probably that comes from her parents being two great Division I athletes and also they’re coaches, so she really gets it. She’d be a great coach someday if she wants to do that.”
>> Cook opened his press conference by thanking the fans who showed up for Saturday night’s match even though it started an hour before the football team’s game at Wisconsin.
“Shout-out to our fans Saturday night for showing up and filling Devaney,” Cook said. “They were awesome. I think the attendance was 7,950-something which means we were over capacity. They did an awesome job and it felt really good to see all that support while the football game was going on.”
>> Friday will bring another installment in one of the best rivalries in college volleyball – Nebraska versus Penn State.
“We’ve had some great matches, they’re fun to play, it’s always a lot of attention, it’s always on TV and I think it’s just a very good, competitive rivalry in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “And there’s roots to it before we went into the Big Ten. There were great matches when [Terry] Pettit was coaching here with Penn State. I think it’s historic, two great competitive programs that have set a very high standard in the sport of college volleyball for success. Obviously, Penn State has set the highest bar with what they’ve done over the past 10 years.”
The No. 11 Nittany Lions are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and Cook sees parallels between the two programs on that side of the floor.
“I think when you look at programs like Nebraska and Penn State, we try to build our foundation on serve, block and defense because if you can do that you’re always going to be in the game,” Cook said. “I think with Russ [Rose], it’s part of their culture, it’s what they’re about; they play defense, they train it hard, it’s emphasized.”
Offensively, Penn State has a new setter in Abby Detering, a junior transfer from Florida.
“She’s a lot like [former Penn State setter] Micha [Hancock]: she can attack, she’s a left-hander, she’s got a really good serve even though it’s a float serve … I know she’s in the top 10 in aces,” Cook said. “Their offense is pretty simple – Haleigh Washington, Simone Lee and [Ali] Frantti; here it comes, stop us.”
First serve at University Park is set for 7 p.m. Friday. Then on Saturday, the Huskers will travel to Piscataway, new Jersey, to take on the 4-21 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
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.