The No. 4 Huskers celebrated the Halloween holiday in style on Monday — in full costume for their practice.
Lexi Rodriguez said the plan came together about half an hour before practice, and the players were a bit nervous to walk out onto the court at first when it came time to start. However, after a moment of staring at his players — particular those sporting mustaches — Coach John Cook rolled with the punches and began practice.
Cook said 20 years ago he never would have let that fly, but he called it a new age and said it wasn’t worth it to hold firm in a situation like that.
“I just take a deep breath and go with the flow … It didn’t help me, but I guess they enjoyed it,” Cook said. “A couple of them were flopping around in these costumes; seemed like it was hard for them to move. But I didn’t say anything.”
Cook said he would have pulled the plug if the costumes had impacted their ability to get things done, but they practiced well. Freshman Bekka Allick said they had a lot of fun and the costumes created a great vibe.
“I think it just shows how professional we are,” Allick said. “We love our job, we love our career, we get to come do this every day. I think that yesterday was a reminder that we get to have this lifestyle and we get to come into this facility where a lot of greats have played, and yet we’re out here wearing costumes and we’re still competing really hard. We’re not letting balls drop just because this or that. If it’s an issue, you need to take it off. At the end of the day, we’ve got to get work done. And so if you’re able to find that balance, then you can have a really good time. I think that’s exactly what yesterday was.”
Cook declared Anni Evans (who dressed up as the Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry, according to Rodriguez) the winner of the costume contest with Kaitlyn Hord as a close second, though Whitney Lauenstein scored points for him by wearing a football jersey with “Cook” on the back (likely Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings).
Perhaps part of Cook’s willingness to let his team do things like the costume practice is the maturity that the team has played when it comes to their work habits.
“First of all, I think they like training, they like being together, they like being in the gym,” Cook said. “So that’s a good part. They’re on a mission to be great. I don’t know if that’s mature, but we have some players that want to win. They were not happy with our loss, so that’s a good sign.”
Sticking with the Halloween theme, Cook discussed what stuck with him from the film review of the team’s loss to Wisconsin last week, which included two deuce game losses as part of a sweep.
“What haunts us when you have the opportunity to win the point and you don’t go for it, you make a soft play,” Cook said. “And that’s essentially what we did, we just made soft plays. I don’t know if that’s playing out of fear, if it’s maybe Wisconsin made some great plays, but we just have to find a way. It’s a mentality that you have to max out when it matters most, and we didn’t do it. So we’re back to working on it and I’m sure this week we’re going to have some of those close games.”
As rough as the film study was, the Huskers seemed to take it to heart as they bounced back with a dominant sweep over a Maryland team that took a set off them in their first meeting this season.
“Wisconsin took it to us, so we kind of had to regroup, refocus,” Cook said. “In sports, you’re going to get knocked down. It’s how you respond, and we responded really well against Maryland. We’re looking for the same thing this week. But there’s no more room for error this season. We’ve got to win. Like I tell them, winning owes us nothing. You’ve got to go take it. Winning is not going to give you anything.”
The loss dropped Nebraska into a three-way tie atop the Big Ten standings with Wisconsin and Ohio State. All three teams are 11-1 with four weeks left of regular season play, and the Huskers play each of the other two again during their stretch run.
“The whole goal is you’re trying to have a shot at the end and it always comes down to the last week,” Cook said. “So we’ve still got a lot of volleyball left to play. We’re going to have to win some big matches and then hopefully we can set up a great last final week of the Big Ten season like it was last year where teams are playing each other for the Big Ten championship. So we’ve got to work hard to stay in that. Right now, the theme I gave them yesterday is we are grinding for results. You’ve got to grind every day right now for results at the end. You just can’t turn it up the last week.”
The Huskers will look to get that next result on Wednesday night as they host Indiana at 8 p.m. before hitting the road once again for a rematch with Northwestern on Sunday afternoon.
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.