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Nebraska Volleyball Coach John Cook Watches Warmup Against Wisconsin
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Looking to Lock Back in After First Big Ten Setbacks

November 01, 2021

For the second time this season, the Nebraska volleyball team has hit a bid of a skid, losing two matches in a row. However, thanks to some help, the Huskers are back at the top of the Big Ten standings and will get a chance to remain there this week if they can right the ship against two ranked opponents in Illinois and Ohio State.

“Last I checked today, we’re still at the top of the Big Ten, so we’ve got life and we’ve got to find a way to win the two huge matches this week,” Coach John Cook said.

After a 10-0 start to conference play, the Huskers fell in three sets to Wisconsin at home on Wednesday before losing in five at Minnesota on Saturday. Cook highlighted two areas where they fell short last week.

“I think we fought against Wisconsin, it’s just we have some areas that we didn’t do great that we had been doing,” Cook said. “Serving is one of them; we didn’t attack with our serve. Minnesota, we missed too many at critical times. So serving kind of let us down. And then we’ve got to find a way to pressure teams more. We dig a lot of balls; we’ve got to start converting more, that’s the bottom line, and put pressure on them. If we get free balls, we’ve got to convert.

“Against Wisconsin, we lost two deuce games. Minnesota, we won two deuce games to put us in the fifth. So that’s what it’s going to be the rest of the year. It’s going to be a lot of close games, we just have to find a way to win those.”

Failing to put way free ball opportunities has led to some extended rallies, many of which haven’t gone Nebraska’s way in the end. Cook said there have been a variety of actors leading to their struggles in that area.

“It just depends. Against Minnesota, we passed a free ball and put Nicklin in the net in the game five,” Cook said. “Against Wisconsin, it was just misconnects, Nicklin setting somebody who’s not even there. So that’s just it’s being a great team, and we have to be a better team.”

Nebraska is leading the Big Ten with 17.9 digs per set in conference play, but after hitting just a combined .140 against Wisconsin and Minnesota the Huskers have slipped to third in hitting percentage at .248, 21 points behind first-place Penn State at .269.

“A lot of those are way out-of-system plays for both teams and Minnesota found a way to get a couple more kills than we did,” Cook said. “So that’s what it comes down to, because they were out of system too but they just bettered the ball and got good swings. Up until this past week we’ve been doing a great job with that, and and it got away from us a little bit. But that’s life in the Big Ten, you’ve got to be on top of your game and win close games to win matches, and that’s just the way it is. It’s hard to do every week, that’s the challenge.”

Nebraska’s freshmen are facing that challenge for the first time. They have 12 Big Ten matches under their belts now and are heading into the stretch run of the regular season.

“I’m on them every day about ‘Hey, we’re still playing, we’ve got a lot of season left,’” Cook said. “I was kidding them today like high school’s over, you’re getting ready start club tryouts. So we’re we’re just starting our season. This is this is where it gets fun. So I’m reminding them, but I think these guys are warriors.”

The losses knocked Nebraska (16-5) back down to No. 9 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll after the Huskers had risen to No. 9 the week prior. After Wisconsin (18-2) swept Nebraska in Lincoln, the Badgers fell to Purdue in four sets, and they dropped one spot to No. 4 as a result.

Ohio State (18-4), who Nebraska will face in Columbus on Saturday, moved up two spots to No. 7. Purdue (16-5) jumped four spots to No. 8, leapfrogging both Nebraska and Minnesota. The Golden Gophers held steady at No. 11. Penn State (15-7) fell two spots to No. 15 after losing to Illinois on Saturday. The Illini (16-7) cracked the poll at No. 25 after beating the Nittany Lions. Chris Tamas’s squad, who Nebraska will face on Thursday, was first among other teams receiving votes last week.

Michigan (13-8) is one of the last teams receiving votes with eight total points, good for 31st.

Dani Busboom Kelly’s Louisville Cardinals are still undefeated and second in the pill behind Texas, who received 56 of the 64 first-place votes. Utah moved up three spots to No. 16, Stanford fell four spots to No. 19 and Creighton remained at No. 24.

In addition to the team’s performance and the upcoming challenges, Cook proudly shared some athletic department news abut the return of a former Husker to Nebraska.

“Today’s an epic day because when I was an assistant coach here in 1990 there was a player, Janet Kruse, and she had been All-American outside hitter,” Cook said. “I always asked her what she wanted to do and she said she wanted to be a doctor. Well, today was her first day starting as a team doctor for female athletes here, so pretty significant historical day in Nebraska athletics and of course her jersey’s retired on the wall. She’s from Blair, Nebraska. It’s pretty cool.”

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