Every four years, Division I volleyball teams have the opportunity to take a foreign tour. For Nebraska, Asia has been that destination for years.
Coach John Cook was the first to take a team to China, according to assistant coach Jaylen Reyes, and he’s become a fan of the playing and training styles in China and Japan in addition to the cultural experience an Asia trip provides. The Huskers last made that trip in the summer of 2019.
However, when it came time to begin planning the program’s next trip, China and Japan still had COVID-19 travel restrictions in place. So Cook and his staff began considering other options.
“It was about a year ago, maybe even a little earlier than that, we started talking about sending me to Brazil for two reasons: to watch coaches train and then also just in case, just with COVID, just with travel going to Japan and China a year ago, those countries were closed and we didn’t know what it would look like in a year,” Reyes told Hail Varsity. “We had no idea. So we’re like ‘Well, we’re going to go on a foreign trip next year; we need to figure out a place where if we don’t go there, where can we go?’”
Reyes came up in the volleyball world during the golden generation of Brazilian volleyball and even now, the country holds a special place.
“If you look at Olympic medals, beach and indoor, men’s and women’s, you can’t argue: Brazil is the best volleyball country in the world in terms of the athletes they produce, and how they train and some of the coaches,” Reyes said. “They have some of the most legendary coaches, men and women, beach and indoor. So we kind of talked about that, possibly sending me to Brazil to watch their training but also kind of meeting some people and organizing to where ‘Hey, would this be a good place to go on a foreign trip?’”
Reyes saw enough during his trip and the Huskers committed to visit Brazil for their 2023 foreign tour. Reyes met some people down there and also interacted with someone who had worked with them previously to help organize the trip, which will take place May 29 to June 14.
“I think I’m the only one on the trip that’s ever been to Brazil before, and I haven’t been there before besides this past May … I had a really good experience,” Reyes said. “Brazil has this national team training center in a part of Rio that their national teams train in and I’m talking from the top dogs to the 15, 16 and under. So in terms of going down there and getting to play a lot of good teams, they have a lot of good juniors and pro teams in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro that we’re going to go to, so there’s a lot of really high level volleyball that we can find in two really big cities. The volleyball piece and then obviously the cultural piece down there too is just different and I’m excited for our girls to kind of get to experience that.”
The Huskers will play the U19 and U21 Brazilian national teams as well as the Brazil women’s military team among others during their trip. Between the beach season, spring exhibitions against Creighton (closed door) and Wichita State (in Central City) and the matches during the trip, Reyes said the new-look Huskers featuring five freshmen and a transfer will get north of 30 matches this spring for the coaches to evaluate.
“You get to see them perform when the bullets are live versus seeing them perform only in practice,” Reyes said. “Not saying practice isn’t important, but it’s like great, there are players that can perform in practice and they just can’t do it under lights when you don’t know the other team or there’s a little more investment in what’s going on tonight at 7. So I think that’s a huge thing, and then just getting the foreign trip you get extra training. You get to train down in Brazil, we get to play against other teams, we get to train against other teams, we get 10 extra practices in May when we would normally have the entire month of May off. We get 10 days of training, which I think is really, really important for this group just because it is so new and new to each other, and the fact that we have six new players.”
Nebraska does return a captain in junior libero Lexi Rodriguez, but Madi Kubik, Kenzie Knuckles and Nicklin Hames are all gone (well, Hames is still around, but only on the sidelines). With no seniors on the roster, Cook is looking to see who emerges from a leadership standpoint, and this trip will provide a chance for players to step up and take charge.
“We’re going to play some matches, we’re going to have more practices sooner than we would have in a normal year and they’ll be able to kind of step into those roles on the trip when we go to Brazil, which I think is important,” Reyes said. “Part of it is just can you establish yourself early? And this year, they get a chance in May and June to do it earlier. If you can do that, then you kind of set yourself up for a great summer. Sometimes we don’t know who’s going to be the captain until August. I don’t know when Coach is going to select his captains, but you get a jumpstart on being able to do that in the 16 days we’re going to spend traveling and going around Brazil.”
The Huskers get a couple weeks off now leading up to graduation day on May 20, and then it’s back to the grind as the team trains for nine days leading up to their departure for Brazil.
“We need the work, and this gives us a great opportunity,” Cook said in Central City. “The fact that we don’t have any seniors, we’ve got a full roster, we’re not waiting for freshmen to come in, so it’s an ideal time to do that. We’re really, really excited about that.”