LINCOLN, Neb. – Monday may be a holiday for most people, but that wasn’t the case for John Cook. The coach of the still unanimous No. 1 Nebraska volleyball team (4-0) took to the podium on Monday for his weekly press conference to review this past weekend and look ahead to the Huskers’ next challenge.
Nebraska swept both of its opponents – Iowa State and Oregon State – in the Nebraska Invitational, outscoring them 150-91 in the six sets.
“I thought our team did a pretty good job except for a couple slow starts, but we were able to really put pressure in games both matches this weekend,” Cook said. “The crowd was great; fun weekend with football. Now we’re off to New Mexico.”
The Huskers were originally scheduled to play at Grand Canyon this weekend, but after hiring a new coach, the Lopes decided to call off that game. So Cook and his staff started looking for something to fill the hole on their schedule and they found the Lobo Invitational.
“This spring, New Mexico needed a team; they had a team drop out, so we joined it,” Cook said. “It’s a three-day tournament. We’re playing Montreal – the champions of Canada for the university system up there – [in an exhibition game] on Thursday, Arkansas Friday and New Mexico Saturday, and it is in the Pit … When I grew up with basketball, the Pit was famous and I said the only way we’re going there is if we played in the Pit.”
The Huskers will face off against Montreal on Thursday at 6 p.m. Cook doesn’t know what to expect from the team from Canada but said he wants to use that game as a chance to experiment and get some more players time while also getting the regular rotation enough time to get used to playing there for the games that really count. Cook said they are looking into whether or not players are allowed to play in the match without sacrificing redshirt eligibility, which is normally the case for preseason exhibitions.
Albuquerque is more than 800 miles away from Lincoln, but Cook said he wouldn’t be surprised to see some friendly faces in the crowd at the Pit.
“There were a lot [of Nebraska fans] in Oregon,” Cook said, referring to the Huskers’ opening weekend tournament in Eugene. “I was shocked by how many were in Oregon. Our fans love to travel. I think Albuquerque this time of year might be a cool place to go … I wouldn’t be surprised to see 2-, 300 Nebraska fans.”
Add up the mileage on the two trips and the Huskers will have traveled more than 4800 miles round trip by the end of the week. Cook said that’s just part of being a college volleyball player.
“We’re always traveling in the nonconference,” Cook said. “I would love to host every game at home but we can’t get enough teams to come here, so we have to travel. Last year we went down to Texas, and then we went to Iowa State and up to Omaha so that wasn’t too bad. I think it’s just part of the deal. We open up our first three Big Ten [games] on the road; the difference is we charter those so it’s a little bit easier, but we have to get used to being on the road. I like how our nonconference sets up.”
With almost a month of volleyball under their belts, Cook said he is going to use this week to do a bit of self-evaluation and get back to the basics in practice.
“Typically, when I go back and look at all my previous practice plans on this week, we kind of call it ‘Fix it Week,’” Cook said. “We kind of now know some things, things we train but aren’t doing a good job of so we’re going to go back and rehearse those the next couple days.”
>> Passing is one area of the game Cook places a big emphasis on, and he talked about how his players have graded out in that area thus far.
“It depends on the day, but Kenzie [Maloney] and Justine [Wong-Orantes] are our two most consistent, highest-level passers,” Cook said. “Anni [Albrecht] and Kadie [Rolfzen] are right behind them. Andie [Malloy’s] got to get a little bit better but I still think she’s working through nerves. Olivia [Boender] hasn’t had that any opportunities. Justine and Kenzie are really elite-level passers.”
>> Cook said middle blockers Amber Rolfzen and Briana Holman have basically graded out the same as the team’s top blockers. Rolfzen was one of the better blockers in the country last year and Holman equaling her says a lot about how far the LSU transfer has come since arriving in Lincoln more than a year ago.
“[Holman] was so far behind in blocking, but she’s worked really hard to become a great blocker,” Cook said. “Technically, she’s done a really great job because she had no technique when she got here.”
>> Cook put sophomore defensive specialist Brooke Smith in a tough situation on Saturday, sending her in to serve on match point against the Beavers. It was the first time all season Smith had taken the floor, yet she stepped up and delivered a tremendous serve, forcing an overpass and setting up setter Kelly Hunter for an easy game-clinching kill. Cook praised Smith’s poise under pressure.
“It would be like a field goal in the last minute when the guy hasn’t kicked all day, and he has to come in and nail a 45-yard field goal … It is very difficult to do,” Cook said. “But she knows that role and she mentally prepares for it and it’s a nasty serve if you haven’t seen it. We call it a hybrid because it’s kind of a hybrid serve – you don’t know where it’s going. That’s hard to do, and she came in and nailed it. She did a really good job.”
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.