I’m rolling with a split column this week focusing on the two sports I’m actively covering right now. Let’s dive right in.
“I think Nebraska is the heartbeat of volleyball in this country.”
Those were John Cook’s words on Monday, and there is plenty of evidence to support his assertion.
Obviously, it starts with his own program and its fanbase. Nebraska has the third-most championships in NCAA history with five. Nebraska is the only team that has appeared in every iteration of the AVCA Coaches Poll since its inception, and it’s first in weeks ranked No. 1 as well as weeks ranked inside the top 10. The Huskers haven’t been ranked outside the top-15 since 1983 (16th, twice), and the team’s lowest ranking is 20th in the very first AVCA poll in 1982.
Nebraska has led the nation in attendance for seven straight seasons (not counting 2020-21 for obvious reasons). Six of the top eight NCAA volleyball crowds and 11 of the top 20 featured Nebraska on one side of the net. That includes the largest crowd, the 2017 national championship match at CHI Health Center Omaha (18,516).
It’s not just Nebraska, though. In 2015, Creighton broke into the final AVCA Coaches Poll at No. 19 thanks to a strong NCAA Tournament showing. Since then, the Bluejays have appeared in 66 of the 80 polls and have spent 19 weeks inside the top 10 with a peak of No. 7.
Coach Kirsten Bernthal Booth has built her program up to the point where it can walk into the reigning national champion’s house and run it off the court, as Creighton did last week at Kentucky. She’s elevated her recruiting to the point where she can sign a top-five class.
As Cook said, Wednesday’s showdown between Creighton and Nebraska at CHI Health Center Omaha will be a “celebration” of volleyball in this state featuring two of the best in the country squaring off. The last match between the two in Omaha, in 2018, was an instant classic.
The Omaha Mavericks are continuing to make strides and impressed Cook with the way they played at the Americas Players Challenge over the weekend.
It’s not just the Division I programs, though. Nebraska has a representative inside the top five of the polls at nearly every level of college basketball. UNK is third in the Division II ACVA Coaches Poll, and Wayne State is at No. 17. Midland is third in the NAIA coaches poll and is off to a 13-0 start while No. 7 Concordia, No. 12 Bellevue and No. 21 College of St. Mary round out the Nebraska representatives.
The high school volleyball in this state is tremendous as well. The 2021 class is already making a significant impact as Papillion-La Vista product Norah Sis is leading Creighton in kills while Lindsay Krause (Omaha Skutt) and Whitney Lauenstein (Waverly) continue to battle for a starting spot at Nebraska.
The 2022 class looks to be terrific as well with double-digit Division I commits already headlined by a pair of Nebraska commits in Waverly’s Bekka Allick and Norris’ Maisie Boesiger. At least five members of the 2023 class have already committed to Division I schools as well.
As football-crazy as this state may be, the people here sure do love volleyball, and there’s a heck of a lot to love at every level of the sport.
Let’s See Some Domannation
JoJo Domann had about as quiet of a performance as one can have during Nebraska’s Week 0 loss to Illinois. His stat line read one solo tackle… and nothing else.
However, that wasn’t necessarily the result of any kind of poor play by Domann. It was by design.
First, on Nebraska’s side of the ball, Domann’s seen a decrease in his snap count. Last year, after the first few weeks Domann almost never left the field until the other team either punted or scored. When they went smaller, he was the slot corner. When they went with their base 3-4 look, Domann was one of the outside linebacker.
This year, Nebraska is using Domann almost strictly as a the nickel linebacker tasked with playing coverage in the slot. When Nebraska shifts out of nickel and into base, Domann leaves the field in favor of a defensive lineman, leaving two more traditional outside ‘backers (most often Garrett Nelson and Caleb Tannor) on the field.
So, Domann’s reduced snap count in week one (43, third among outside linebackers behind Nelson and Tannor) and the role they’re asking him to play made it tough for him to make a splash on the box score.
However, and perhaps more importantly, Illinois seemed terrified of him. On almost every single play for which Domann was on the field, the Illini went away from him. The one tackle came on a third-and-15 pass that Domann stopped for a gain of 9 yards.
Week one’s opponent, Fordham, didn’t show the same kind of reverence for Nebraska’s nickel linebacker, simply running their stuff regardless of where Domann was lined up. The results were five tackles (tied for the team-high), a tackle for loss and an interception, and he did all of that on 40 snaps (first among linebackers, inside or out).
The interception was a case of being in the right place at the right time and taking advantage of opportunities as Domann did a great job snagging a ball that bounced off the intended receiver’s fingers.
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) September 4, 2021
Domann had to reach back and over his shoulder to make the catch, but he did so and held onto it as he hit the ground.
Domann also showed off his closing speed on a third-and-8, chasing the running back out of the backfield and running him out of bounds 3 yards shy of the line to gain. He made a tackle for a 1-yard loss and also had a strong play where he blew up an end-around play and spilled it back to the middle where his teammates made the tackle for a 2-yard gain.
When in attack mode, Domann is one of the best playmakers this defense has. I hope we see more that from him as the Huskers move forward.
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.