Nebraska fans got their first look at John Cook’s 2020-21 squad on Thursday as the Huskers held their annual Red-White Scrimmage. The pandemic prevented Nebraska from opening the Devaney Center doors to fans, but the program welcomed fans in digitally via a live-stream of the match that drew upwards of 10,000 viewers.
“I want to thank Husker Vision and our people for setting this up,” Coach John Cook said after the match. “You could tell, there was some nerves out there, our players haven’t played in nine months, so it was really good for us to be able to do this tonight.”
The Red team — made up primarily of returning starters — swept the white team 25-19, 25-14, 25-22 with sophomore outside hitter Madi Kubik leading the way offensively.
“On the match tonight, we kind of mixed things up a little bit on lineups,” Cook said. “We got thrown for a loop here with not having Lexi tonight, so we had to make some adjustments. Overall, I thought our block and defense was really good. We’re serving tough, just a little high-error. There was a lot of really nice high-level volleyball played tonight. Typically, for a first match in a long time, the consistency level wasn’t as good as it needs to be and where we’ll get to, but a lot of positive things that we’ll build on tonight.”
Senior outside hitter Lexi Sun was not available as she got flagged during COVID-19 contact tracing and did not receive the results of her test in time to play. Since the volleyball team isn’t in season yet, the program isn’t using the rapid antigen testing.
“This is the world of COVID,” Cook said. “They pull somebody out, test them and we’re at the mercy of whenever they get it back. We were hoping to have it back before the match. She feels fine. But we have to follow these protocols … She’s been training great and I’m sure she is crushed not being able to play tonight because she had to sit at home for the last two days.”
With Sun out, Kubik stepped up as the go-to hitter for the Red team and put down a match-high 13 kills. When the White team made a late push to extend the match to a fourth set, Kubik put down back-to-back kills to complete the sweep.
“It’s definitely different,” Kubik said about playing in an empty arena. “I think we’re used to running out to a super loud crowd and running out to almost silence is a lot different when you’re in Devaney. Devaney’s a great environment to play in. But I think as a team, we kept the same vibe and were playing tough, so it was fun.”
The Red team raced out to an 11-4 lead to begin the night, but the White team rallied to make it close at 16-13 and then at 21-18. The Red team closed it out from there with Kubik recurring the set-point kill. Sophomore Riley Zuhn unofficially led the way with five kills in the set.
The White team got off to a 5-1 start in the second set, but the Red settled in from there. After a 10-all tie, Red dominated the rest of the set with a 15-4 run as Kubik came alive.
The third set was close throughout but the Red team pulled ahead 23-20 late. The White team scored two in a row and drew a timeout from the Red team, but Kubik finished it off on the next rally.
One area in which the Red team controlled the match was at the net defensively as the Huskers threw up a big block all night.
“Overall, we’ve been working on blocking a lot for us,” Cook said. “We’ve had a nice block of training and so it’s allowed us to really work on things and develop things, and so that was one of the highlights tonight is how well we blocked. Don’t look at just how many stuffs we have, you have to look at all the balls that were deflected or slowed down that we could play. The one area that we didn’t do a great job blocking was Kayla Caffey tonight.”
Caffey, the transfer middle blocker from Missouri, led the White team with eight kills on .267 hitting. Emma Gabel, the walk-on defensive specialist out of Lincoln Pius X who missed last year with a torn ACL, led the White team with eight digs in her first action in front of Nebraska fans. Sophomore Nicole Drewnick and freshman walk-on Anni Evans split the setting duties for the White team while volunteer assistant coach Kelly Hunter played outside hitter.
Sophomore libero Kenzie Knuckles led the Red team with 12 digs while junior setter Nicklin Hames dished out 17 assists. Freshman middle blocker Kalynn Meyer played with the Red team and put down six kills on 10 attempts with no errors.
“I think we’ve made a lot of growth as a team,” Kubik said. “In that match, we were still working on a lot of new things we were learning and working with and continuing to play out of the box and implementing those new things that we’re working on as a team. So I think as a group, we’ve had a lot of group in the last five weeks and it’s been awesome.”
After five weeks of training, the Huskers will take the next two weeks off to allow the players to focus on their finals. Cook said the team will return the day after Thanksgiving and will begin training again on Dec. 1. The season is scheduled to start on Jan. 22.
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.