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Nebraska Volleyball's Madi Kubik Celebrates a Point Against Wisconsin
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Reset With Good Week of Practice Ahead of Maryland Match

November 12, 2021

For the first time since the second week of Big Ten play, the Nebraska volleyball team had five days between games, which Coach John Cook “absolutely loved.” Teaching is one of Cook’s favorite parts of the job, and this week allowed for plenty of it.

“We had a really good week of practice,” Cook said. “For me, personally, it was in my element. We got to train and teach, to prepare, and so it’s been really nice. The team really embraced it and came in and really got after it this week.”

The mini-break came at a good time as the No. 11 Huskers have lost three of their last four, all to top-11 teams. Two of those losses came at home. Cook said that while he thinks his team was disappointed, it hasn’t let the losses affect the way they practice.

“We had some opportunities to win games and win matches and I think they’re disappointed,” Cook said. “But instead of reacting to that, they’ve acted in a really positive way, meaning they’ve come in and got to work. They’re really trying to get better. This time of year it’s tough to get people motivated. The energy this week in practice and their commitment to improve was was off the charts.”

Madi Kubik echoed Cook’s assessment of the way the team has handled the recent setbacks.

“We’ve been very discouraged at the losses, but I think it lights a fuel for all of us to come in the gym and get better just know that we still have really great opportunities to do some really awesome things this season,” Kubik said. “Statistically, we’re doing some really good things and so to not be discouraged too much and not spend too much time in that space and kind of just get back on the horse and keep going at it.”

In Big Ten play, Nebraska is first in digs per set (18.09), aces per set (1.62) and service receive errors (0.68),  second in opponent hitting (.163) and assists per set (13.64), third in kills per set (14.68) and fifth in hitting percentage (.242) and blocks per set (2.40). Cook said they spent this week really hammering the fundamentals.

“I think we worked a lot this week on just continuing to keep tempo with our offense and getting everyone really connecting and playing really tough defense,” Kubik said. “I think that’s been a really big piece for us in the previous matches, just holding teams with our block and our defense. So I think just really honing in on that and dialing that in so that we can bring that the next couple of weeks.”

The Huskers will get a chance to show what they’ve been working on Friday night as Maryland (18-8, 6-8 Big Ten) visits the Devaney Center.

“They’re good,” Cook said. “They’ve done something we haven’t been able to do the last couple years which is beat Wisconsin. So that’s all you’ve got to say about them. They’re physical, they’re good, they go really fast and it’ll be great match.”

The Terrapins went 12-0 in nonconference and then opened Big Ten play with a five-set win against Wisconsin, handing the Badgers their first loss of the season. Maryland’s six conference wins already surpassed the program’s total from each of the previous two seasons.

Looking at the season as a whole, the Terrapins are first in the Big Ten in blocking at 3.08 per set, and they’re second in league play alone. To prepare his team to go against a big block, he came up with some alterations to one of his favorite drills.

“We try to put them in really tough situations … We did three versions of trash can this week each day, and it puts them in those situations so they have to get out of a big block,” Cook said. “That’s how we train it.”

The trash can drill is one of Cook’s toughest, asking pin-hitters to find ways to get kills against a triple-block.

Sophomore outside hitter Sam Csire is leading the offense with 3.54 kills per set, though she’s only hitting .193. Senior Paula Neciporuka, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, is adding 2.97 kills per set on .205 hitting. The two pins have combined for 48 aces while sophomore setter Sydney Dowler is leading the team with 31 aces and 10.01 assists per set.

Senior Rainelle Jones, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, is leading the Big Ten with 1.72 blocks per set while sophomore Laila Ricks is chipping in 1.18 blocks per set. Freshman libero Milan Gomillion is leading the conference with 4.78 digs per set.

The Huskers are heading into the stretch run in the Big Ten with three weeks left of the regular season, and despite their three losses, they are only one game back of Wisconsin in the chase for the conference title.

“We’re trying to just get Ws right now,” Cook said. “We’ve got six matches in the conference left. We’re only one game out of first place, so it’s survive and move on. That’s pretty much the mindset for the rest of the year. But if you can come in and continue to get better this time of year, and we’ve always prided ourselves on being a great team in November and getting better as the season goes on and peaking in December. That’s the challenge right now. I can create all the drills and do whatever I want and have all my ideas, but it really comes from them.”

One tweak Cook busted out during last week’s matches was senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins staying in the game to serve. Typically, Cook has someone sub in to serve for her.

“She’s 6-4, so the angle’s different,” Cook said. “When just she gets it up here and hits at that angle, it is really hard. That’s why you see a lot of middles on teams will serve because of that angle, because middles typically are taller.”

Cook sad the coaches were focused on getting Stivrins back up to speed with her hitting and blocking after she returned to the court after back surgery, but she’s spent more time working on her serve recently and Cook felt comfortable giving her a chance. She had two aces and served a big run during the Huskers’ win at Illinois last Thursday.

On Wednesday, Cook’s three 2022 commits — Waverly middle blocker Bekka Allick, Norris setter/defensive specialist Maisie Boesiger and West Des Moines (Iowa) Valley outside hitter Hayden Kubik — signed with Nebraska, and the coach shared his excitement.

“I love the 2022 class because they’re, first of all, if you hang out with him, as you guys will see, they’re just awesome,” Cook said. “They’re Midwest kids, they’re from small-town Midwest — even though West Des Moines is kind of small town. They’re just awesome. They’re competitors. When you watch him play, they want to win. They’ve played some high-level volleyball. And they’re really tight-knit group.

“Bekka was named captain of the USA team — think about that. So of the 1000s of kids that are 18 and under, 12 were selected for that team and then she’s named captain. That just coins it right there. Maisie has been leading this Norris team forever. And Hayden’s got her sister as a role model. So just quality, quality people and competitors. Super fired up.”

Hayden Kubik is Madi’s younger sister, and Madi said she is looking forward to playing with her sister next season.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so excited,” the elder Kubik said. “We got to play one year together in high school, so that was really fun. We got to just feed off each other because we play the same position, so just like giving each other advice and different things when we played in high school. I’m excited for her to transition to being here. I think she’s really excited to be here.”

First serve on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT on Nebraska Public Media and Big Ten Network+.

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