The Hail Varsity Mailbag is back and it runs the gamut of questions again, from volleyball to stadium upgrades to junior college options. Mike Babcock, Jacob Padilla, Chris Schmidt, Greg Smith and Brandon Vogel tackle your questions below.
What are our volleyball chances of winning it all after the graduation of the twins and Justine. Lot of talent coming back but a lot lost!! (@rcas2104, Twitter)
BV — Nebraska will be a little bit “back of the pack” by its own lofty standards, but those same standards keep the Huskers from being too far out if that makes sense. It’s also worth noting that some of Nebraska’s best teams over the years have been in this exact same scenario — back end of the top-10 (presumably) to start the season and missing some major stars from the previous team. In 2000, Nebraska entered the season ranked 11th and John Cook somewhat famously said: “If there are 10 better teams it’s going to be a great year for volleyball.” That team went undefeated and won the school’s second national title. Not saying that will happen this year, but in the past Cook’s teams have tended to play well with “something to prove.” I think it’s going to be a really fun season.
MB — As with Husker football under Tom Osborne, John Cook has kept Nebraska volleyball nationally relevant, always in the discussion regardless of who’s gone and who’s back.
JP — Nebraska lost the players that had been the face of the program over the last few years, but it does return its captain in setter Kelly Hunter, and a great setter can truly control an entire game. Nebraska also has studs at outside hitter (Mikaela Foecke) and middle blocker (Briana Holman). All three of them could be preseason all-conference players. Nebraska lost an incredible libero, but John Cook has been training Kenzie Maloney to take over for Justine for the last two years and he seems to have faith in her being able to handle that role. Nebraska also returns Annika Albrecht (who is still listed as an outside hitter but played a ton in the back row) and Sydney Townsend back there. There are pretty much two wide open spots that will most likely have to be filled by freshmen: the third outside hitter spot and the second middle blocker spot next to Holman. Winning it all is a pretty lofty goal, and as Cook said last year winning the Big Ten might be even tougher than that. But Nebraska returns enough that if a couple of those freshmen prove they can play early, the Huskers should be able to challenge the best in the conference and the country.
Are the academic standards at UNL higher than average or about average? (@IBeLionsBeats, Twitter)
CS — The info I just saw (SAT entrance standards) as of 2016 had Nebraska as the lowest, meaning “easiest” school, to gain entrance into. I would say it is average but still prestigious enough for the Big Ten to take Nebraska as part of their league.
MB — There are conference standards and NCAA standards, which are lower. There are also school standards within the Big Ten. My guess is Nebraska is probably somewhere in the middle of the Big Ten, not at, say, Northwestern’s level. Back in the day, Big Eight standards were much lower than the Big Ten’s, for example, and that was a real issue. When the Big 12 was created, academic (entrance) standards became a point of contention to Nebraska’s disadvantage. I believe some schools still allow limited exemptions for some athletes. A key in the discussion is what happens when a student-athlete enrolls, what sort of support does he/she get. And in that area, Nebraska is among the best. Anyone who puts in the time and takes advantage of what’s provided can succeed.
Other than selling beer at football games, what are the top 3 things you would like to see at Memorial Stadium on game day? (@Corn_Huskers, Twitter)
MB — I’d like to see capacity reduced and the freed-up space used to expand the seats a bit for everyone (if it were possible, space in front of the seats increased). I’d like the state-of-the-art video boards used to show either another game live, a replay of the Husker game (or highlights from it), or highlights from Husker games of the past for fans to watch as they leave the stadium. And this is far-fetched because of space/location considerations: I’d like to have a Husker history museum somewhere close so fans could look through memorabilia similar to what’s in the north lobby, but including so much more, things that are filed away, out of anyone’s view.
CS- One, food truck row, outside the West Stadium. I think that would be cool, not very convenient to potentially navigate through, but oh well. Two, more movie nights, maybe two times a month during the summer. Three, a concert (I love what PBA has brought to the city) but an outside show or event (like a Bud Crawford fight) would be cool. The last two weren’t applied to game day, just talking in general. I’ll given you a fourth, a NAME-SEC squad as a home opener.
Is there any JUCO kids that we could take in this year’s class to help fill a need or add more depth? (@captainwaller, Twitter)
CS — Coach Riley had some success hitting the JUCO ranks at Oregon State and Nebraska has a selective history of doing very well with JUCO talent (Rozier, Farley, Lavonte, Gomes, Purify). I honestly think they have good numbers on the O-line and there are bodies in the front seven. All those kids need (and will be) to be developed. They could look at a JUCO DB or pass rush specialist OLB/DE hybrid. I do not have any names on my radar as of now.
BV — Well, Elijah Blades is at Arizona Western and Deiontae Watts might be at Fort Scott, and both are familiar with Nebraska. Kidding, mostly, but so far at Nebraska this staff has been slow to dip its toe into the junior-college waters. My read is that they’ll use the increased scholarship flexibility for 2018 high school prospects first, but if needs emerge early in this 2017 season the Huskers might have to look for help on the defensive line or maybe even receiver.
GS — Coach Riley and staff have been very reluctant to go after JUCO talent which does add to the speculation of both Elijah Blades and Deiontae Watts and Nebraska never being linked again. I would not look for the Huskers to get involved with any JUCO players this cycle other than offensive tackle Badara Traore (6-8 315) who did have Nebraska in his top 10 but has not visited yet.