On Friday afternoon, the Huskers were at the Devaney Center, getting taped up in preparation for their match against Northwestern. The Wildcats were in their own locker room, getting ready for their serve-and-pass session.
By 4 p.m., Friday’s match was off.
“Everybody was dressed up and showing up at the party, but then the party got canceled,” Coach John Cook said.
Because of COVID-19 issues, Nebraska and Northwestern had to postpone their Friday-Saturday series. Cook said both teams tested in the morning and one of Northwestern’s players produced a positive result via rapid testing. That player had to drive up to Omaha to take another test, which confirmed the positive result.
Cook didn’t tell his team about the initial positive test. He wanted to keep them locked in mentally in case the result was proven to be a false positive. That happened in Bloomington the previous weekend. How did the players handle having their home debut scrapped?
“Not well,” Cook said. “They were in disbelief. They didn’t believe me; they thought we were playing a joke on them.”
Cook said there was almost a riot in the room when he told them. He sent the team home on Friday but brought the players back for an inter-squad scrimmage.
“Saturday was great,” Cook said. “They were excited to play. We let parents come in and watch so it kind of felt like a game. We had parents that had traveled here, so we were able to do that. Then they were fired up in practice Monday. I think we’ve had one bad practice in the last year that I can remember, so this group loves to train, they love being in there, they want to get better, so they’ve been pretty fired up.”
The scrimmage gave the Huskers a chance to simulate a game day and establish their routine, but there’s no substitute for the real thing.
“We definitely need to be playing matches,” Cook said. “You get better every time you play; any coach will tell you that. Fortunately, we can create a pretty good situation in our gym that’s pretty competitive, which has been really nice. Still, it’s different nerves, different team, different environment, so playing matches is really, really important. How does that affect us? I don’t know. It’s an 11-week season.”
Cook is more worried about what postponements and cancellations will do to the overall Big Ten schedule if programs have to go on pause for multiple weeks. In the release announcing the postponement, Nebraska shared that it would work with Northwestern and the Big Ten to identify rescheduling options. Cook said he doesn’t anticipate any midweek matches between two weekend series, however.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Cook said. “I think when they reschedule it’s going to be like what Michigan State and Ohio State did the last two days. They both were supposed to play Michigan and Penn State, who are not playing, so they got together and played. We were actually trying to get Michigan State. As soon as Northwestern canceled, we were talking to the Big Ten about playing Michigan State. That’s how the postponements are going to be made up. It’s the easiest way to do it. I don’t see us playing four matches in a week; there’s no way.”
The Huskers are back in their regular routine this week and are scheduled to host Maryland on Friday and Saturday. The Terrapins are 0-4 so far, dropping two five-set matches at Ohio State in week one before getting swept by No. 7 Minnesota this past weekend.
The Terps are third in the Big Ten at 2.75 blocks per set led by junior middle blocker Rainelle Jones at 1.69. Senior outside hitter Erika Pritchard is leading the team offensively with 2.88 kills per set.
“They’re a big, physical team,” Cook said. “They play their outside hitters all the way around so they have probably the most back-row attack of anybody I’ve seen in a. while. They set a lot of back-row attack in transition. They got some physical hitters, a couple great players — Pritchard and the other middle. They’ve been there for a couple years, they’re older, they’re more experienced, their coach has been there a little bit longer now so they’re an up-and-coming team. It’s a Big Ten match and they have an advantage on us that they have played four matches, they’ve been in five-gamers.”
First serve on Friday is set for 6 p.m. CT on NET. Saturday’s match, set for 7:30 p.m. CT, will be televised on Big Ten Network.
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.