Nebraska (3-2) held serve this past weekend in the Ameritas Classic — sweeping three opponents it was supposed to beat in UMBC, Oral Roberts and St. Mary’s — behind an MVP performance by senior middle blocker Briana Holman and in doing so held steady at No. 12 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll.
“The tournament was great, and to be able to do it with the football game was a great sports weekend,” Coach John Cook said. “It was a lot of fun. I’m happy for Briana; she had a great weekend. We were breaking records in the Oral Roberts match, so pretty good for that.”
Nebraska did not drop a single set all weekend, though the Huskers were on the brink of losing the first set against St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon as they rallied from down 24-21 to win the frame. Cook said that set was the best challenge the Huskers faced all weekend.
“The biggest key might have been the game one comeback against St. Mary’s,” Cook said. “To be down and come back, that’s huge, something you’re looking for early in the year to give confidence to your team that we can pull these things out.”
Next up for the Huskers is a different kind of nonconference challenge — back-to-back matches against No. 11 UCLA (5-0) at the Devaney Center.
“Now we’re doing the UCLA thing back-to-back,” Cook said. “We scheduled UCLA; they wanted to come here. They’ve got some kids on their team that are from the Midwest, so they wanted to play somewhere close by. We worked that out and we couldn’t get anyone else to come in and play Nebraska and UCLA in the same weekend so we just decided to play back to back … It will be interesting to see from night one to night two, making adjustments and trying to have two great efforts. From a coaching perspective, I think it’s pretty cool. I hope the fans will be fired up.”
Though Nebraska will be playing the same team on both nights, Cook said the team will still have plenty of work to do after game one to get ready for game two.
“I love it, but there’s going to be a big prep from Friday night to Saturday night,” Cook said. “I’ve looked at them a little bit. They’re playing pretty much seven players. In fact, they’ve only had like eight or nine players even play all year, so they either have a real small team or they’re just playing that core group … I think it’s fascinating. I think we’ll learn a lot. This will be great preparation for the Big Ten playing back to back. I’m really looking forward to it.”
>> Cook said the communication between him and assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand improved quite a bit from the first weekend, though it is an ongoing process.
“We didn’t mess up subs and we didn’t forget to put people in and we had a week to prepare for these teams, so that was a little smoother,” Cook said. “That’s going to be a work in progress the whole year.”
>> Senior setter Kelly Hunter made her season debut during the Classic and played in all nine sets, averaging 3.2 assists and 1.9 digs per set while splitting time with redshirt freshman Hunter Atherton.
Hunter is still a ways away from 100 percent, but Cook said they are going to see what she can handle in practice this week before determining what her role will be against the Bruins.
“We’ll take it up another notch in practice this week and see how she does,” Cook said. “Each week we’re upping it. I thought she got a little sloppy in the St. Mary’s match; I think she was feeling a little bit.”
Cook has not yet decided if he is going to continue using the 6-2 system featuring both setters that he implemented for the Ameritas Classic. Hunter’s availability will likely play a large part in that as Cook said it is difficult to take her off the floor when she’s at full strength.
>> A number of freshmen had big games and made big plays over the weekend in front of a packed Devaney Center.
“They’re doing great,” Cook said. “I think Jazz [Sweet] coined it best: ‘After I got through that Red/White [Scrimmage], this is easy.’”
>> Minnesota (5-0) moved up to claim the top spot in this week’s AVCA Poll. No. 3 Penn State (5-0), No. 6 Wisconsin (5-0), No. 16 Michigan (5-1), No. 17 Purdue (6-0), No. 21 Michigan State (5-1) and No. 24 Ohio State (4-2) round out the Big Ten teams in the top 25.
>> Nebraska and UCLA will take the court for an 8 p.m. start at the Devaney Center on Friday. The game will be televised on BTN. Saturday’s game will begin at 7 p.m. on NET.
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.