Nebraska extended its winning streak to 11 and opened Big Ten play 2-0 over the weekend as the Huskers beat both Michigan and Michigan State in four sets. Next up is Nebraska’s first true road trip of the season.
“It’s good to start off the Big Ten 2-0, and now we hit the road so that will be interesting,” Cook said. “I was really pleased Sunday. Yesterday was really cool, they gave out those [replica trophies] and the crowd was great. I thought we played some good volleyball this weekend. We’ve still got to get a little more consistent, but what I’m most pleased about is that I see our team working on the things we’re working on, and I see them trying to implement it in the matches. That’s a really good sign; it’s going to pay off for us down the road.”
The Huskers held steady at No. 3 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll and the Wolverines moved up one spot to No. 17 despite losing to the Huskers, their first loss of the season. Penn State dropped from No. 4 to No. 9, which moved the other three top-10 Big Ten teams — No. 5 Wisconsin, No. 6 Minnesota and No. 7 Illinois — up a spot.
To this point, Nebraska’s only match away from the Devaney Center was at CHI Health Center Omaha against Creighton. On Friday, Nebraska will travel to Northwestern before wrapping up the trip at Illinois on Saturday. Cook said he’s not quite sure what to expect from his young team.
“We’re going to Northwestern and have to play in a high school gym, so that’s a whole different ball-game,” Cook said. “Of course Illinois will have a big crowd and that will be fun. I actually think our players might respond better on the road than at home. I just think there’s a lot of pressure playing at Devaney and I’ll tell you why. Like this weekend, when you beat a team 25-8 and then all of a sudden you’re not crushing them the next game, they start getting tense and our crowd gets tense, like ‘let’s go, let’s put them away.’ I think they feel a little bit of that and on the road, it’s just us.
“I think it’s going to be really good for us to go on the road. We haven’t had that bunker mentality with just us yet, on the road, fighting with each other and for each other. I think it’s going to be really good.”
One of the key’s to Nebraska’s success through 12 matches is that the Huskers boast the best defense in the country. Nebraska is holding opponents to .106 hitting so far this season.
“First of all, I think it’s our training, how we train and our mindset and what we instill in them,” Cook said, “I think Mikaela [Foecke] and Kenzie [Maloney] understand that, so that’s the first thing is a mindset in training. The second big thing would be Callie [Schwarzenbach] is a good blocker, Jazz [Sweet] is developing into a really good blocker, both our left sides are good blockers, so there’s not a weak block up there. Nicklin [Hames] for her size does a really good job; every once in a while somebody like [Creighton outside hitter Taryn] Kloth is going to light her up, but she’s definitely holding her own.
“I think it starts with you have to be a great serving team, you have to be a great blocking team and you have to be a great floor defensive team, so there are three parts to it. I think in all three of those, we’ve performed at a really high level.”
Blocking is one area the Huskers have taken a step forward in over the last couple of weekends as the Huskers have averaged at least three blocks per set in each of their last five matches. Cook thought this year’s group had potential in that area, but he wasn’t sure quite what to expect.
“I had no idea what Callie could do and Chesney [McClellan] was a good blocker, so probably somewhat yes. I saw Callie’s like fourth in the nation in blocking, so she’s holding her own. That was the one big question mark. Then of course, I knew our left sides were all physical. Sam [Slaughter], Capri [Davis], Lexi [Sun] are all really good blockers and they’re all physical. Anni [Albrecht] last year was not a physical blocker but again, she held her own.”
On offense, however, Cook still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“We’ve got to get our middle attack going a little bit more and to do that we have to pass more,” Cook said. “That’s one thing. We’re still trying to figure out out-of-system; we should be better. We hit .000 out-of-system against Michigan State yesterday. We’ve got to make that a strength for us, so we’ve been working really hard on it. We’re trying to do the right things, it’s just not happening consistently enough yet. Probably the main thing is just trying to be in a consistent rhythm and you have to pass the ball to do that. We were in a great rhythm last year, for example, and we’re still sputtering on that a little bit.”
First serve in Evanston is set for 7 p.m. on Friday. Saturday’s match is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start as well and will be televised on BTN.
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.