This weekend’s USD Invitational is a homecoming for San Diego native John Cook, but he said the trip isn’t about him and it isn’t a vacation.
“It’s a volleyball trip,” Cook said. “We’re playing two great teams. But we’re going to San Diego not because I’m from there, we try to go back for our players. I’m looking at it as a business trip, but I will see a lot of people I know and started with in volleyball there. There will be a lot of my peeps out there watching the match. We’re excited to go and play two great matches and prepare for back-to-back in the Big Ten.”
The player in particular here is junior outside hitter Lexi Sun, a native of Encinitas, California, which is about 25 miles north of San Diego.
When Cook was recruiting Sun as a transfer from Texas, he told her a trip to San Diego for a match was a possibility, but he didn’t promise anything. Then the schedule came out and it held a pleasant surprise for Sun.
“My mom was so excited,” Sun said. “Obviously, my dad is excited too, but I think more for the people, like my grandparents, people that don’t always get to travel here and see us play. My extended family’s really excited.”
Sun said her family is having reunion this weekend including a baby shower for her pregnant sister. Sun said her parents have gotten plenty of chances to see her play — they have a condo in Lincoln — but she’s looking forward to catching up with the rest of her family.
“They’re empty-nesters now so they’re lonely, so they come almost every game,” Sun said about her parents. “They’re dedicated fans for sure.”
Nebraska only received 30 tickets from San Diego, and Sun’s family isn’t the only one planing to be there.
“I told most of my family they ought to buy their tickets,” Sun said. “I know a lot of people’s families are coming but I’m going to try to get as many as I can.”
Cook’s heard from plenty of friends and family in San Diego as well, but he’s letting the players use all of their allotted tickets.
“I don’t have any tickets to give to anybody, but everybody’s asking for tickets,” Cook said. “They just can get them at the doors. It could be a pretty big crowd for the San Diego match. I don’t know what that arena holds.”
One of the people Cook’s heard from is his mother, Bobby Jo, who lives in Boise, Idaho these days but is back in San Diego taking care of some family matters. She hasn’t been to many of Cook’s matches — the last one was Lauren Cook’s senior night — because it’s difficult for her to travel. Back home, she has five border collies and 22 sheep to look after.
However, as Cook said, it’s a business trip, the first official road trip for the team’s freshmen. Cook said he isn’t expecting the road environment will phase them, though, after what they experienced during the team’s tour of Japan and China during the summer.
“For them, this is an easy trip in that it isn’t going to China,” Cook said. “That’s one of the good things, they understand how we travel, what we do, our routines — you’ve got to stay in your routines on the road — how we watch video and so on. So they’ve been through it.”
Cook expects a pair of tough matches in the USD Invitational. On Friday, the Huskers (2-0) will take on Arizona (2-1), a team who made the NCAA Tournament last season and is receiving votes in the AVCA Coaches Poll. On Saturday, the Huskers will face the host Toreros of San Diego (1-2), ranked 25th in the poll and another NCAA Tournament qualifier from a season ago.
“Arizona played here in the tournament last year,” Cook said. “They’re a big, physical team. San Diego gets to the tournament every year. They’re not as physical but they’re really quick and they’ve got some really nice athletes and they’re going to play more ball-control, defense, that type of volleyball. They’ve got a really nice middle, and they’re just a really good volleyball team. Arizona’s more like a Big Ten team and San Diego’s going to be more just a really good volleyball team.”
Cook said he’s seen the team make a big step forward in a few key areas from week one to week two.
“Our serving is up a notch, I think our block and defense is up a notch and I think our ability to terminate balls has improved tremendously in a week,” Cook said.
The Huskers will get a chance to show off those improvements starting on Friday at 6 p.m. CST. Saturday’s match is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. Neither match will be televised but the Husker Sports Network will broadcast the radio call.
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.