Nebraska rode a wave of momentum into Madison on Wednesday night, climbing to the top of the Coaches Poll on the back of an 11-match winning streak. The Badgers promptly put an end to that momentum, handing the Huskers their first conference loss in a sweep.
“We got punched in the mouth and we weren’t as good as we think we are,” Coach John Cook said during the Nebraska Volleyball Show on Sports Nightly Thursday. “So we’ve got work to do.”
That work began on Thursday as the Huskers (18-1, 10-1 Big Ten) returned to the practice court. Cook said his message was that everyone faces adversity; what’s important is how they respond to it.
“You’ve got to learn from it,” Cook said. “We came into practice today and I said, ‘OK, here’s what we learned last night. We’ve got to do better at this, we’ve got to do better at that, they exposed this.’ It’s all things I’ve been saying, but now it’s like, ‘OK, Coach was right.’ … I saw a team that came in very focused today, worked very hard, was committed to working on everything.”
Cook highlighted the serve and pass game as the difference in the match, which featured two deuce games and then a seven-point win for the Badgers. Nebraska got off to a good start, but Wisconsin turned up the heat from the service line and Nebraska’s offense fell apart.
“That was one of the big differences last night was Wisconsin stressed us serving,” Cook said. “We haven’t been stressed like that all year. We went four matches without getting aced this year, without getting aced. Last year, the only time that happened was the very first match of the year against Colgate which was an hour-and-15-minute match. My point being very rarely that happens, and then last night not only did we get aced six times, but we didn’t pass very well. We passed well enough, it was just one good pass and then one really kind of, somebody’s chasing it down pass. We never got into a rhythm … The first 10 points we were in a rhythm and after that we never got in a rhythm.”
Nebraska spent Thursday’s practice addressing the issues Wisconsin revealed, and Cook said his team was dialed in. The practice court is where Cook is most in his element, and he said he was happy to be back at home after so much time spent on the road after he last few weeks.
“We haven’t trained very much,” Cook said. “We went on the road, that was our third straight road match on Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday-Sunday schedule. So we only had a couple of days to even train. When you go on the road, those practices, you’re just trying to get used to the gym, play a little bit, trying to keep them fresh, so you really don’t get training time. That’s one of the bad things about the Wednesday-Saturday schedule. You’re trying to keep them fresh, train them a little bit, but when you’re on the road, it’s worse because you just don’t have training days.”
The Huskers will get a chance to bounce back on their home court on Saturday night against team they’ve already beaten once this season in Maryland (13-10, 4-7 Big Ten). Before the loss to Wisconsin, Maryland was the last team to take a set off the Huskers as Nebraska won 3-1 in College Park on Oct. 2.
“There are no easy nights in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “I mean, look, Illinois who just lost a bunch of five-gamers, bunch of matches, they beat Penn State last night. Maryland went on the road and beat Northwestern 3-0 and Purdue 3-0, don’t forget that. So they’ll have our attention.”
Maryland is the top blocking team in the Big Ten, as the Huskers found out during their first meeting. The Terrapins are averaging 3.44 blocks per set with the nation’s leader in blocks, Rainelle Jones, accounting for nearly half that herself with 1.71 per set to go with 1.52 kills per set on .303 hitting. Sam Sire is leading the Maryland attack with 3.41 kills per set on .12 hitting. Maryland will stress Nebraska in serve receive just like the Badgers as the Terrapins are leading the Big Ten in aces as well with 1.87 per set. Between its block and its serving, Maryland presents a formidable defense, allowing opponents to hit just .174 this season, third in the conference.
“We’re still in first place in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “Now we’re in a tie and we’re going to play both those teams again. So our goals are in front of us, but you can’t look ahead at that because you’re going to get knocked off. Maryland beat Wisconsin last year and then Wisconsin won the national championship. So all these teams in the Big Ten are dangerous. You’ve got to bring it every night, you’ve got to show up every night.
“Our fans have got to show up. It’s going to be after the football game, so they better rehydrate before they get to Devaney; 7:30 start and we’ve got to blow the roof off.”
The match will be available to stream on Big Ten Plus.
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.