That’s the focus word this season for John Cook and his Nebraska team.
“We graduated four seniors, there was a lot of ball touches, kills and blocks that moved on from those four,” he said at the Huskers’ Media Day on Monday. “If you look at our staff, we’ve placed six coaches in the last year in coaching positions, between our coaches and our grad managers. I’ve had to replace a lot of people.”
Between All-American seniors leaving, assistants moving on to new programs and Nebraska coming off a disappointing end to the 2016 season, Cook and his staff have had to approach this one with a different focus.
“For me it’s about a reinvent and that’s really energized me,” he said.
When Cook looks out onto the court at the Bob Devaney Center when the Huskers open practice on Tuesday, he’ll see six new faces, and two more freshmen who redshirted a season ago. The IQ is there, but there’s still teaching to be done, more so than in years past.
“What excites me is I’m really going to have to go into teaching mode and start from square one,” he said. “Last year we were coming in trying to figure out how we were going to repeat a national championship, this is like ‘okay what are we going to do now.’ “
Cook also has a staff full of fresh faces that he has spent all summer trying to get on the same page. They went out and recruited together, something he said doesn’t happen often. They ate together, they traveled together and they are trying to set the team up for as smooth a start to the season as possible.
But the teaching doesn’t stop with the head coach. Cook has tasked the senior class, five strong, with teaching the freshmen group as well.
“I’ve put it on those seniors,” he said. “What they were told is if the freshmen don’t know the drills, they don’t know the keywords, they don’t know how to go to the floor, then they’re going to be doing extra work with those freshmen.”
It’s going to be a work in progress. Cook acknowledged that much, but the goal is to start as strong as possible and continue to grow.
“We want to try and be good early,” he said. “By the time we get to the Big Ten we want to be a great team and then by the time we get to the end of the season and the NCAA tournament we want to be unstoppable.”
Part of that growth, Cook believes, is going to come with clean volleyball, the Huskers other focus word for the season.
What does clean volleyball look like? “Being really low air, being smart and being really disciplined,” Cook said. “We’re not going to have the firepower and the physicality we’ve had in the past.”
>> This summer’s offseason theme was “MOAS,” or “Mother Of All Summers.” Brian Kmitta, the Huskers’ strength coach, explained.
“This year we decided we were going to go to more of putting an emphasis on a single workout and getting them out of their comfort zone and having some shared suffering,” he said. “A lot of good teams are built off of shared suffering.”
>> Captains won’t be announced until the Red/White scrimmage, starting spots are still up for grabs, and the freshmen have just as much of a shot at playing time as anyone.
“I think they all have a chance, that’s what they’ve all been told,” Cook said of his freshmen class. “When the lights go on and the balls are live and we’re keeping score, we’ll see who’s going to show us they’re ready.”
>> When asked about the kind of leadership needed from the senior class this season with so many young players, outside hitter Annika Albrecht stressed the importance of setting the right example.
“I think something that new people need on the team is just an example to follow. Having five seniors – and I know Allie (Havers) is new to the team but she’s old and mature and understands what it’s like to be a Husker – and laying down the rules with our example, helps them understand what’s expected of them,” she said. “I don’t think they need parenting from us by any means, but it’s an example to follow.”
>> Instead of focusing on what the Huskers lost from a season ago, Cook is focused on what’s left over.
“We have an All-American setter who’s won a national championship and a Big Ten championship,” he said of senior Kelly Hunter. “Kelly’s got the credentials. We have a great player in that position.
“Briana Holman’s been an All-American and is going to have a chance to have a huge role on this team. I think Lauren Stivrins and Briana could be, together, two of the best middles in the country and in the Big Ten conference.”