Students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln were off on Monday for fall break, and Coach John Cook decided to give the volleyball team the day off as well, at least from practice. Instead, Cook took the Huskers on a short trip out to Hickman, Nebraska, for a team activity.
“It’s fall break, it’s kind of middle of the road — it’s actually past the middle of the season part but kind of in the middle of the Big Ten — so it’s just a good time to let them have a break,” Cook said. “They never get breaks without school or something. We’ve got three more road matches in a row coming up so I want to make sure that they have a chance to recover.”
The activity was a visit to Still Waters Equestrian Academy and Morning Star Riding Center, a ranch in Hickman that offers riding lessons and therapeutic riding sessions. Their mission is to “share gods gift of horses with anyone, no matter their age, income, or ability. Morning Star Riding Center is here to help us better serve people with special abilities that may not otherwise get the opportunity to work with horses.”
Director of operations Lindsey Peterson and Nebraska director of sports psychology Brett Haskell came up with the idea.
“It’s all about how you interact with horses and how you’ve got to work together and build trust and things like that,” Cook said. “It was great.”
The Huskers got back to work on Tuesday, however, as they prepare for another tough weekend road trip. The practice wasn’t exactly the Huskers’ best of the season; communication among other things fell short of Cook’s standard.
Nebraska has dropped two of its last three matches including a five-setter at Penn State on Saturday. Senior libber Kenzie Maloney said losses aren’t the worse thing that can happen (Nebraska still only has three of them this season now) so long as the team doesn’t keep making the same mistakes.
“I honestly think sometimes losing is a good thing, especially for a team like this because it teaches you a lot,” Maloney said. “I think as long as we’re improving that that’s good. Obviously we want a win to come out of that eventually but I think if we do make this improvements then that’s when we’re going to start seeing our team get better.”
One area of the game that let the Huskers down against Penn State as well as in their loss to Minnesota was passing, and that has been a big focus for the team.
“It’s always a struggle trying to pass at a high level … We have the mindset that we need to continue to get better passing,” Cook said. “We’re not at our numbers yet. We’re close, but we’re not there yet.”
Cook said the goal in their system for passing is at 2.8 (which is what last season’s championship-winning team passed at) and the team is passing at a 2.62 rate so far this year.
What has the team learned from it’s recent tough stretch?
“I think we’re just learning that we can’t afford to make so many errors and lack ball control, especially when we’re playing in the Big Ten because we’re playing top-10 teams almost every game,” Maloney said. “We have to expect more of ourselves and that’s what we’re kind of learning right now.”
Two more of those top-10 teams await the Huskers this weekend. First, Nebraska will travel to Madison to take on No. 9 Wisconsin on Friday. The Badgers are 12-4 this season and 5-3 in Big Ten play but feature a dynamic middle attack featuring 6-foot-8 sophomore Dana Retake who is averaging 3.63 kills per set on .405 hitting.
“Everybody’s got big physical players, but when Wisconsin passes well it makes it really hard to stop because Rettke’s a first-team All-American, Tionna Williams is an All-American,” Cook said. “That’s their bread and butter is running their quicks to the middles, and typically that happens on a good pass … It is a challenge. We’ve got to get all six players on her, blockers and diggers.”
All of Nebraska’s focus is on the Badgers this week, but on Saturday Nebraska will travel to Minneapolis to take on No. 3 Minnesota. The Golden Gophers (14-2, 8-0) are sitting in first place in the conference with sweeps over No. 4 Penn State, Wisconsin and No. 7 Illinois. Nebraska is the only Big Ten team to even take a set off the Gophers who beat the Huskers in four sets in Lincoln on Oct. 6.
First serve on Friday night is set for 8 p.m. while Saturday’s is scheduled for 7 p.m. Both matches 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.