John Cook Looks Ahead to Rematch with Ohio State
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

John Cook Looks Ahead to Rematch with Ohio State

October 10, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. – John Cook took the podium for his weekly press conference on Monday after the Huskers righted the ship following their first loss of the season to No. 19 Ohio State by sweeping Indiana and No. 17 Purdue.

“The Huskers took care of business this weekend so we had a good response after last week,” Cook said. “I’m very pleased with that. We’re off to Ohio State and then Maryland, who is – even though they’re 0-6 – another dangerous team. They had several teams in the fifth [set], [against] Illinois, they lost 20-18 in the fifth. So [it’s] another challenging road trip.”

Nebraska moved up to No. 2 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll, jumping Minnesota after the Golden Gophers dropped a five-set match at No. 10 Penn State. The Huskers also picked up 11 more first place votes and trail top-ranked Wisconsin 50-14.

The Huskers will face Ohio State for the second time this season on Friday, marking the sixth ranked opponent the Huskers have seen in seven conference games. According to Cook, “the challenge continues.”

Cook said his team got back to playing Husker volleyball again to complete the 2-0 weekend home-stand.

“We were really good serve, blocking, defense,” Cook said. “We held Purdue to .031, we held Indiana to [.052]. I think defensively we were dialed in, our block was good and we were serving tough. That was probably the biggest jump.”

Cook highlighted the keys to the game that his team needs to focus on in order to snap its three-game losing streak to the Buckeyes.

“We can’t let [Taylor] Sandbothe take over the match, or their setter [Taylor Hughes],” Cook said. “Those are the two big things, and we left a freshman left side hitter {Luisa Schirmer] get 16 kills on us; you can’t let that happen. We’ve got to be able to terminate the ball when they block us one on one because they gamble a lot blocking and they rely on their back row defense. So we’ve got to be able to kill balls.”

Hughes was a problem all match for the Huskers in their last meeting, notching 11 kills to go with her 40 assists and eight digs. Nebraska can’t let that happen again.

“[Lauren] Evans for Purdue is a very good attacker and we held her to zero kills,” Cook said. “So it’s just a matter of being alert and preparing and understanding when she’s going to try to attack. We’ll have to prepare better than we did and execute better. She did a number on us.”

Cook also explained whose responsibility it is to contain the setter attack an what makes the Buckeyes hard to defend.

“It mainly is going to fall between the left front and the middle blocker and the back row all communicating and coordinating who takes what and when they take her,” Cook said. “Sandbothe makes her good because she’s so active and moving around so you’re trying to follow her and that opens it up for that setter. We have to see it really well and execute and prepare better.”

The Huskers are leaving the friendly confines of the Devaney Center for their second Big Ten road trip, but Cook said he that doesn’t worry him at all.

“I think they enjoy playing on the road because I think there’s less pressure playing on the road, to be honest with you,” Cook said. “I see us come out tighter at home than we do on the road. Because on the road I think they pull together; here, there are so many distractions and there is such an expectation and pressure to win and beat teams here. I think it’s almost we go into kind of a bunker mentality on the road. It’s just us, and I think they feed off of that, they feed off of each other.”

First set in Columbus, Ohio is set for Friday at 5 p.m.

>> Senior middle blocker Amber Rolfzen was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, the fourth such honor of her career. Rolfzen averaged 2.33 blocks per set in the team’s two wins and recorded a season-high nine blocks against the Boilermakers.

>> Cook discussed the Big Ten race and what it will take to win the conference title.

“I think, as each week goes, the matches get bigger and more important if we’re trying to win a Big Ten Championship,” Cook said. “There’s also a lot of other things on the line with NCAA Tournament seedings and so every week is really a big week. You cannot afford to lose. You have to win if you want to be in the hunt … I think the Big Ten’s going to be really tough. I think the key is who can be consistent and find a way to win close matches, and that’s, I think, our challenge. We know we’re going to be in close matches; can we find a way to win them?”

>> Six games into the conference schedule, Nebraska’s newcomers Andie Malloy and Briana Holman are still learning what it takes to be effective against Big Ten competition. Cook offered an evaluation of Malloy’s play to this point as the graduate transfer from Baylor has been a bit up-an-down.

“I think she’s just been OK,” Cook said. “She’s had some good moments but she’s had some rough moments. If you talk to her and Bri [Holman], this is a whole ‘nother level from what they’re used to – the intensity and the level of play playing in the Big Ten. In some ways they’re like freshmen adjusting to what it’s like every match.”

Cook said Malloy is close to on track to meet the goals she set for herself, but she has taken a dip since Big Ten play began. Against Purdue on Sunday, Malloy bounced back from a two-kill, three-error start to record five kills with no errors over her final nine swings.

“I’ve seen her do that before,” Cook said. “There have been some matches where she’s started off slow and then has finished really strong. I have confidence that she’s got the maturity to work through a slow start.”

The Huskers are going to need Malloy to elevate her play in order to accomplish their goals as she provides a change-up from Nebraska’s other starting left side hitter, sophomore Mikaela Foecke.

“Mikaela’s a 100-mile-an-hour fastball and Andie’s more of four-pitch pitcher – she’s going to give you shots, cuts, tool it, look one way and hit the other way; she’s more of a finesse player,” Cook said. “Mikaela is ‘here I come, stop it.’ She still hits into liberos; she blows them up, but I think she has a ‘let’s see if you can stop this’ mentality.”

>> Ohio State went after sophomore defensive specialist Kenzie Maloney a bit in its win in Lincoln, but Cook said her struggles weren’t entirely her fault and he has confidence in her moving forward.

“She’s been our best passer all year statistically and that was the one match she broke down, but all of that was not her fault,” Cook said. “We made some adjustments on that because it was not her fault completely; we had some people getting in the way. We’ve worked on some of those things to alleviate that.”

Maloney played well over the weekend, finishing with seven digs in each of the matches. Cook is high on Maloney moving forward and hopes she will be ready to take over at libero next season after Justine Wong-Orantes graduates, which is the role he recruited her to fill in the first place.

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