Seventeen days, two countries, over 1,100 miles and seven matches await the Nebraska volleyball team as the Huskers head to Asia for their 2019 foreign tour this weekend.
Coach John Cook has a lot planned for his team during the trip which will pit the Huskers against a handful of talented, experienced club teams on the court. That experience will be valuable for a young squad featuring six true freshmen, but the trip is about much more than volleyball.
“I’m looking forward to our team just getting to know each other better and just being comfortable while you’re uncomfortable type of thing and I think it’s really going to test our team and hopefully it will bring us all closer,” junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “We have a bunch of new players and our team’s pretty young, so it will be nice to compete with them.”
The players are certainly excited about the trip, but according to Stivrins, they’re plenty nervous as well. And that is exactly what Cook wants.
“There’s no one on our team that’s been to China, or Japan really,” Stivrins said. “I think it’s going to be a whole new experience for all of us and we’re kind of just going to go in and embrace everything and make the most of it. There’s a lot of stuff we’re nervous for; we’ve heard a few horror stories from girls who have gone on previous trips. But they said it just brings everyone closer together so I’m excited for that.”
Trips have served the Huskers well in the past. Following their first two foreign tours, the Huskers won the National Championship, and they made it to a Regional Final after the previous two.
“I just think, first of all, they grow volleyball-wise from it,” Cook said. “But the other thing is we’re going to be there with no school, communication is tough, there are no boys, there are no distractions, it’s just us and we will have some times on this trip where we will go dark, I call it. There’s going to be no cell phones, nothing. It’s just them, we’re on busses, we’re on trains, so there’s a lot of relationship building that goes on on these trips. Here there are so many distractions, but that’s the one time it’s just us.
“Just think about this: it’s going to be our little team in a country of a billion people and with all the world tension and everything going on between the U.S. and China, but we’re just going to go there and play volleyball and it’s just us in this one country, and the same in Japan. So there’s tremendous team-building that goes on on these trips.”
That team-building will serve the program well over the next few years as Nebraska does not have a single senior on the roster. In fact, 10 of the 16 players on the roster are underclassmen.
“This whole team we have right now, this is our team basically for the next two years … So this is a great opportunity to go on, timing-wise, for our roster and our program to go on this year,” Cook said.
Individually, the trip will serve as an introduction to international volleyball for the Huskers.
“We’ve got to start off trying to be good and try to go to great and see how we can improve over the course of the trip,” Cook said. “We’re going to play the second day we’re there against the No. 1 team in Japan and their heads are going to be spinning from jet lag and it takes a while to adjust to that. But the other thing they learn from this is the ones that want to go on and play professionally and play around the world and be on the USA team, this is what Kelsey [Robinson] and Jordan [Larson] just did — they left here and went to China, and they were in Europe, and from China I think they go to Turkey. This is the world of international volleyball players, so this is also going to open their eyes to that.”
Cook said he is hoping the Huskers will get a lot out of this Asia trip, and what they gain off the court will be just as valuable as what they do on it.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.