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Husker volleyball coach giving direction to team during game
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Huskers Working to Stay Strong Amidst ‘Devastation’ of Team Loss

October 28, 2019

Dane Leclair, a 22-year-old MBA student at Nebraska and graduated manage for the volleyball program, died early on Sunday morning. Nebraska sent out a release with a statement from Coach John Cook on Monday morning.

"The Nebraska volleyball family is devastated to learn of the tragic passing of one of our graduate student managers, Dane Leclair,” the statement reads. “From the moment Dane joined our program this summer, he made a lasting positive impact on all of us with his big smile and friendly personality. Dane brought a lot of energy to our team, and our players and staff will greatly miss him.”

Leclair was a Pittsford, New York, native who played his college volleyball at Loyola-Chicago before joining the Huskers as a graduate manager over the summer.

Cook said he met with the team on Sunday and he used “devastation” to describe the players’ reaction.

“Our graduate managers have become a very important part of our program,” Cook said. “I treat these guys, first of all like they’re my own sons, I treat them like they’re professional coaches, even though they are graduate managers. They’re super tight. I told the team several times this year that this is the tightest group and the best group we’ve ever had as a whole, overall part of our program. It’s losing a part of our team. 

“It’s hard to put into words. Everybody’s still really confused. When somebody’s that young and has the world in front of them — he was a really talented guy, and a great family. We were at Maryland last week, his family came down and met him and so it’s really a tragic deal. We’re going to have to work through it. But these guys do mean a lot, they’re a very important part. They spend two years with us and they’re there every day, every meeting, grinding right with the coaches and the players.”

Cook said he puts the word out to men’s college coaches after every season that Nebraska is looking for seniors who are interested in getting into coaching and pursuing their master’s degree. That’s how Cook found Leclair, who set personal bests in kills (117), aces (nine), digs (116) and blocks (45) during his senior year with the Ramblers.

“It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood,” Cook said about his managers. “Kelly [Hunter] is a part of that now, we had Kelly O’Connor last year. They’re very tight, they all share an office together. Basically it’s a pack that runs together and they do everything together. It’s very tight-knit and we recruit people that we want in this program that we think can be really good, help us and then use this as a springboard.”

Cook said he’s never experienced something like this before and is leaning on his staff to help the program move forward.

“I’ve got some great people helping: Brett Haskell and Lindsay [Peterson], who just had a baby,” Cook said. “This is the first time in my coaching career that I’ve ever had to deal with something like this. It’s new territory for me, but surrounding ourselves with some great people and we have great administrative support, so we’re trying to make the best of everything we can. But it’s tough, it’s really tough.”

Despite the program’s loss, Cook did not alter his schedule for the week as the team will gather together again on Monday afternoon to practice.

“We’ve got to get back in the routine,” Cook said. “Yesterday was a long, tough day. It’s a coaches worst nightmare when stuff like this happens, it’s a parent’s worst nightmare for those of you that have kids. It’s the worst nightmare and it’s something that I always worry about, especially on weekends when our players travel on their own to go somewhere, it just is your worst nightmare.”

>> Leclair’s passing came on the heels of a five-set loss for the Huskers at Purdue on Saturday. 

“I think we let one get away from us at Purdue, but the message to the team this week is all throughout the season, you’re constantly dealing with interference,” Cook said. “Last week we had some interference with the Capri [Davis] deal and some other things and we’ve got more this week. This is going to be a great test for us to see if we can eliminate interference and really focus on having a great second half in the Big Ten. It’s going to be a big challenge, especially for kids this age. But the ante goes up every week and we’ve got two very important matches this weekend and we’ve got a lot of stuff to work through.”

The Huskers (16-3, 8-2 Big Ten) opened the weekend with a four-set win at Indiana in which the Huskers dominated the final three sets. That didn’t carry over to Saturday against the Boilermakers, however. Nebraska fell behind big before rallying to take the first set, but Purdue won sets two and three and then dominated the fifth set from start to finish. Attack errors were an issue for the Huskers early on and then the defense fell apart late.

“First of all, Purdue played really well,” Cook said. “They were fearless. We made one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen in game one. It was 21-12 and there was a touch and I thought we were so far behind, but I know our team is competitive, I’m so competitive, I don’t want to give away any point and we talk about point-by-point and we’ve got to fight for every point, so we got that reversed and we made a great comeback. I thought from there, ‘OK, we’re going to play really well here,’ and we just were inconsistent all night. A lot of that had to do with Purdue and the environment. We just couldn’t get in sync. 

Another thing is [sophomore setter] Nicklin [Hames] wasn’t in practice all week last week. That’s part of the interference: your setter’s not there all week, it’s hard to get better. I know football’s probably going through the same thing right now. I think it was a combination of everything there. We just were not in a good rhythm, but again, Purdue was attacking us really well and put a lot of pressure on us to cause that.”

>> Last week was a bit chaotic for teams in the top 25, especially those near the top. Three other top-10 teams besides the Huskers lost, leading to a bit of shuffling in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll.

Top-ranked Baylor suffered its first defeat of the season against Texas and the Bears dropped to No. 3 while the Longhorns jumped up from. No. 4 to No. 1. Stanford, still playing without two-time AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer, lost to UCLA in three sets and dropped from No. 2 to No. 5. Pittsburgh moved up from No. 3 to No. 2 while Wisconsin slid up from. No. 6 to No. 4. Texas received 43 first-place votes, the Panthers received 18 and Baylor, Wisconsin and Stanford each drew one vote.

Minnesota and Penn State each moved up one spot to No. 6 and No. 7, respectively, while Nebraska dropped down to No. 8. Purdue leaped from No. 20 to No. 16 after beating the Huskers while Illinois dropped from No. 17 to No. 19 after losing to the Nittany Lions. Michigan is fifth among others receiving votes with 13 points.

Creighton moved up one spot to No. 9 after that spot’s previous resident, Washington, lost to Utah. Colorado State, who Nebraska beat in a spring exhibition in McCook, held steady at No. 14 and is 20-1 on the season. UCLA, who Nebraska swept during the opening weekend of the season, cracked the poll at No. 25 after its win against the Cardinal. San Diego is the first team out at No. 26 with 60 points, just under half of UCLA’s total of 122.

>> After three matches on the road, the Huskers will be back at the Devaney Center this weekend to take on Rutgers on Friday and Penn State on Saturday. The Huskers swept the Scarlet Knights (7-14, 1-9) in New Jersey on Oct. 2. This will be the first meeting between Nebraska and the Nittany Lions (16-3, 9-1).

“Rutgers just had a big win against Northwestern, so that’s their first Big Ten win in a while,” Cook said. “They must be playing better, so they’re going to come in here amped up. Penn State’s Penn State. They’re second-place in the Big Ten right now, they’ll be ranked ahead of us coming into this weekend, so another challenging Big Ten weekend.

“It will be good to be home, three road matches wears on teams, especially when you’ve got to play back-to-back. But it’s part of it and our team’s got to learn how to handle that a little bit better. But you’ve got to go through it to be able to handle it and learn how to do that.”

First serve on Friday is set for 7 p.m. on NET. Saturday’s match is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on BTN.

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