John Cook opened Nebraska Volleyball media day a little differently this year than he has in the past. Rather than diving right into his opening monologue, he brought up strength and conditioning coach Brian Kmitta to address the assembled scribes and television cameras.
“He’s such a valuable part of our program and he pretty much has them all year round, and we’re limited in when we can be with them,” Cook said. “I think it’s really important to hear what goes on besides what goes on here in Devaney; most of the prep work was done by Brian all this summer.”
With six new players in addition to a pair of redshirt freshmen looking to make a leap in year two, the offseason was key as the Huskers try to reinvent the team, especially considering the preseason is “one of the shortest preseasons ever,” according to Cook.
This year’s offseason mantra? M.O.A.S.
“M.O.A.S. stands for Mother Of All Summers,” Kmitta said. “Every summer we come in and try to have a theme, a common theme through the whole summer. Some years it’s been ‘two points better,’ this year we decided we were going to go to more of putting an emphasis on a single workout and getting them out of their comfort zone and having some shared suffering. A lot of good teams are built off of shared suffering. We changed things up a little bit this summer and put more emphasis on individual workouts and called them our M.O.A.S. workouts for the summer.”
M.O.A.S was the brainchild of the coaches and strength staff working together, and that collaboration is something Kmitta made a point to highlight.
“We have a performance team; I think that’s what helps make us a little bit more unique,” Kmitta said. “We have Tommy [Jensen], our nutritionist; Jolene [Emricson], our athletic trainer; me in strength and conditioning and Brett [Haskell] in sports psych. We work very well together; I think that’s what makes my job so easy, that’s what makes my job fun. They have all these specialties and different areas and we collaborate great together. I think that’s what helps us out and gives us a real competitive advantage.
“You don’t have all those individual departments that could really easily become silos. We work together as one unit; I think that’s a big difference-maker for us. We’re also very good at collaborating with our coaches too, so being able to work with the coaching staff, to get the trust out of them — like Coach said, during the summer time so he has to trust us to do it. I think we do a pretty good job of that.”
Kmitta singled out senior defensive specialist and Lincoln native Sydney Townsend as the returner who had a stand-out summer, and he also said the freshman class was impressive as well.
“They came in and they had a very high level of athleticism,” Kmitta said. “A lot of what we did with them this summer was built on their coordination. We looked at certain movements that we wanted them to get better at, and started building from there. We worked on their lateral movement, sliding from side to side, which you think in volleyball would just be a natural movement, but we get these kids from all over the place and most of them have a very high volleyball IQ, they’ve played volleyball for a long time, but when it comes to the weight room we have to break it down a little bit and take a look at individual movements so we’re not just jumping in and putting the kid at risk.”
The offseason wasn’t all about physical development, however. With so many newcomers to the team, building up camaraderie was as important as strength.
“I think we just all tried to get in together as a group such as we could,” senior setter and two-year captain Kelly Hunter said. “Obviously it’s easy to go in and pass and serve and do all of your individual skills, but we tried to get in as a group. It was hard with all of our schedules but just at workouts we were doing some tough stuff together; that always helps with bonding.”
The coaching staff experienced even more of an overhaul than the roster as Cook had to replace both of his assistants, and he tried to take advantage of the offseason to build up chemistry with his new assistants, Tyler Hildebrand and Kayla Banwarth, as well.
“We worked really hard to fast-track those relationships, socially, in the office, on the recruiting trail,” Cook said. “We all went recruiting together, all three of us. We don’t do that very often but I wanted to get us all on the same page and you spend a lot of time when you’re recruiting for three days, you’re basically in the gym all day and then having dinner at night.”
With preseason practice underway and the Red/White Scrimmage on Saturday, the Mother of All Summers is over. Now, the Huskers will get a chance to show off what they accomplished right out of the gates as Nebraska opens the season with a couple of games against top-20 teams.
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.