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No. 3 Huskers Heading East For First Big Ten Road Trip

September 30, 2022

No. 3 Nebraska has played nine of its 11 matches so far at home this season, and one of the two matches away from the Devaney Center was at CHI Health Center Omaha, where the fans in red significantly outnumbered those in blue.

That changes this weekend as the Huskers make their first east coast road trip of the season.

“We’ve got an interesting couple weeks here,” Coach John Cook said on Tuesday. “I think we’re going to be on the road eight days in the next two weeks with these split schedules. So that’s a big challenge for us is how we’re going to manage school, being away. And what I’ve learned the first week in the Big Ten and nationally, there are a lot of teams that can beat a lot of teams.”

That message is particularly relevant this week as the Huskers prepare to face two teams outside the top 25 in Rutgers and Maryland.

“Our theme right now, and it’s really, really important, is it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what the record is, we’ve got to bring our A game and we’ve got to go in super prepared,” Cook continued. “So that’s what we’re focused on right now and then how we’re going to, offensively, be better.”

Nebraska will travel to Rutgers for a Friday night match before heading to Maryland to face the Terrapins on Sunday afternoon. Cook is somewhat conflicted about the “split weekends” as he put it, where the team has a day off between matches during a road trip.

“It gives us a day to prepare, it gives us a day to rest,” Cook said. “But it makes for a long road trip. It’s four days and then we turn right around and do it again next week with a short week … From a coach’s perspective, I like it, but it’s a lot of time sitting in the hotel and sitting around.”

Cook chooses to fill some of the gaps in the travel schedule by spending more one-on-one time with his players, something that can be difficult to squeeze into a busy schedule back home with training, classes and free time.

“One of the good things when we go on these longer road trips is it gives me a chance to sit down with them, check in with their goals, how they’re doing,” Cook said. “We get to watch more video because our schedules are so tight here, so it does give us some time to really connect.”

The Huskers and Terrapins will play on Sunday rather than Saturday because Maryland didn’t want to play the same day as the football team, which stands in contrast to what the Huskers like to do when possible in Lincoln because of what I means for the fan base.

“I’m glad Nebraska has the capability and the administrative support that they want to do that,” Cook said. “I already know how many people come from like North Platte to our matches and have season tickets because when I go speak I always ask who has season tickets. When 200 people raise their hands and I’m like ‘Are you guys kidding me? You guys drive all the way to Nebraska volleyball matches?’ And they go ‘Yeah.’ And it’s all over the western part of the state. What’s what is they come in for football, volleyball, make it a great day, spend the weekend in Lincoln. Hotels like it, Barry’s likes, it so everybody’s happy.”

The other reason Cook prefers Saturday game days is it leaves the student-athletes with a day off to recharge for the upcoming school week.

“We like to give them Sundays off, so they have a day off. Because if you play Sunday and then you take Monday off, they really don’t get a day off because they’re in school. So they never really get a day to themselves, and I see that wear on athletes … I think our players like playing the same day as football. It’s a sports day and then Sunday should be a day to recover and take a nap and get caught up.”

Rutgers (7-7, 1-1 Big Ten) snapped a 20-match Big ten losing streak last Sunday when the Scarlet Knights beat Michigan State in five sets. Rutgers went 0-19 in conference play last season and dropped its Big Ten opener this season to Michigan in three sets.

Rutgers is currently last in the Big Ten in hitting percentage at .211 through 14 matches. The Scarlet Knights are ninth defensively, allowing opponents to hit .181. Redshirt freshman Alissa Kinkela is leading the team with 3.1 kills per set on .252 hitting. Like Nebraska, Rutgers has been running a two-setter offense.

Maryland announced on Monday that it had sold out its match against Nebraska at he XFINITY Center Pavilion. The arena’s current attendance record is 2,225 set on Oct. 19, 2019 — against Nebraska.

“We hold attendance records everywhere in the Big 12 and Big Ten,” Cook said. “But a lot of those people will be Nebraska’s. I just looked at their stats two days ago, they only had 895; I don’t remember who they played but they only had 895. And I was thinking they’re probably going to sell out for us.”

Freshman Maggie Mendelson said she’s looking forward to having a full hour on the road, and is excited to hear from both Nebraska and Maryland fans.

“It’s going to be awesome just to be able to know that our crowd travels well and that they’re here to support us no matter what,” Mendelson said. “But it’s also going to be cool having some Maryland fans to kind of get after us too.”

Maryland (9-5, 0-2) is eighth in the conference in hitting percentage at .236 and fifth in opponent hitting at .160. Where the Terrapins excel is blocking as they are first in the nation at 3.27 blocks per set. Senior middle blocker Rainelle Jones is leading the country at 1.75 blocks per set while 6-foot-5 junior Anastasia Russ is sixth in the conference at 1.33 blocks per set while chipping in 1.50 kills per set on .368 hitting.

“The block’s our friend,” Cook said. “Get those hands up there and it gives us targets to hit off of. That’s how we approach it. But they’re a very good blocking team and they always have been and they’re fun to play because of that.”

Junior Sam Csire is leading the offense at 3.28 kills per set on .215 hitting. Maryland is also first in the Big Ten in services aces at 2.06 per set. Nebraska’s serve receive will face a difficult taste after allowing one ace (and 35 errors) in the past two matches (eight total sets).

Friday’s match is set for 6 p.m. CT. Sunday’s will begin at 12 p.m. Both matches will be available to stream on Big Ten Network Plus.

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