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Padding the Stats: Volleyball’s Return Exactly What Nebraska Fans Need

January 20, 2021

The Nebraska volleyball season begins on Friday, and it couldn’t be starting at a better time.

As the calendar turned to 2021 a few weeks back, I spent a few minutes reflecting back on the horrible year that was 2020 and all of the games that I covered during that time. Obviously the pandemic is a big reason for this with the impact it had on my various beats, but I realized that I had covered just four Husker wins in person during that 365-day period.

Again, that is four wins in a full year, all from the basketball team: Iowa on Jan. 7, McNeese State on Nov. 25, North Dakota State on Nov. 28 and South Dakota on Dec. 1. I didn’t cover the football team in person this season because of the pandemic-related press box limits, and the volleyball season got pushed back to 2021.

Add in the games I covered from home and the number of wins I wrote about doubles to eight. Again, that’s eight total wins in 365 days. That’s depressing.

Unfortunately, it looks like I won’t get to cover any men’s basketball games, let alone wins, any time soon. Best of wishes to everyone in the program dealing with COVID-19 right now, especially Fred Hoiberg considering his preexisting conditions stemming from his heart problems. Hopefully all of the cases within the program are minor.

With seven players at least currently isolating after positive tests, it could be some time before Nebraska has enough healthy and eligible players to return to practice and field a team. Nebraska extended its pause on team activities through this weekend, and I’ll be surprised if the Huskers are ready to go for their Jan. 30 game against Penn State.

I don’t actively cover the women’s basketball team — that’s Derek Peterson’s beat — but I do enjoy following it and the work Amy Williams and her shorthanded crew have done recently is incredible. Three wins plus a near upset over top-25 opponents in less than three weeks while playing with primarily a seven-woman rotation deserves plenty of praise and admiration.

Unfortunately, that magic ran out on Tuesday as the short rotation caught up to the Huskers in a 76-71 loss to Minnesota, Nebraska’s first home loss of the season. With second-leading scorer Issie Bourne in street clothes, the Huskers shot 3-of-21 from the field including 1-of-9 from deep in the fourth quarter. No legs.

Williams did get some good news as highly-regarded 2021 commit Kendall Coley has enrolled early and is eligible to play as soon as she’s ready. No matter how much she’s able to contribute, the added depth alone should be a nice boost to a team sorely needing more healthy bodies. But again, that’s Derek’s beat.

It’s been a rough go of it for Nebraska athletics as a whole, which is why this is a great time for the volleyball season to begin. As Brandon Vogel wrote in his “The Oldest Part of Us” column in this month’s Hail Varsity, John Cook’s program is the closest thing to a sure thing as you will find with Nebraska sports.

The Huskers have been one of the last eight teams standing in each of the five seasons I’ve covered this program, and twice during that span they’ve outlasted every other team in the country and took home the hardware. They’ve lost five or fewer games in four of those five season, with the exception being a seven-loss season that ended in a national runner-up finish. The ability to consistently rank among the elite year in and year out should not go under-appreciated.

The Huskers open the season on the road, but I’ll get a chance to start covering wins in person again next weekend as Northwestern comes to Lincoln for a pair of matches. Everything I’ve experienced so far this season with the men’s basketball and football teams — from the losses to the cancelled or postponed games to the suspension of competition entirely — has only made me realize how lucky I am to get to cover a program like Nebraska volleyball. There’s no guarantee, even with all the precautions Nebraska is taking, that the season will play out as scheduled, so I’m looking forward to getting the most out of each match I get to cover and I hope my writing can do justice to what is shaping up to be another special season for Cook’s crew.

Nebraska fans (and beat writers) have had to suffer through a lot of losing since the Huskers walked off the court for the final time in December of 2019. I’d say the return of Husker volleyball is exactly what this fan base needs right now.

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