Monday may be a holiday, but that doesn’t mean John Cook is taking a day off. Nebraska’s volleyball coach took to the podium for his weekly Monday press conference before speeding off to a team film session as the Huskers begin week two of the 2019 season.
Nebraska held steady at No. 2 in this week’s AVCA Coaches Poll, receiving one first place vote, after taking down Creighton in four sets on Friday night and sweeping UCLA on Saturday in the Husker Invitational.
“Probably like Coach Frost, I was feeling a little bummed about our offense Friday night but we were a little bit better Saturday night,” Cook said. “We’ve got a long way to go and I think we learned a lot from this weekend that we can take into this week to work on.”
The Huskers hit .181 against the Jays then bounced back to hit .296 against the Bruins.
A pair of true freshmen in outside hitter Madi Kubik and libero Kenzie Knuckles made their debuts in the starting lineup and held their own for the most part.
“I think those guys are pretty confident no matter what,” Cook said. “I think what gets in their way maybe is a little interference with the crowd situation, the pressure of playing in Devaney, the hype, being on TV, that stuff has just got to work itself out. I think they’re both really confident and are really confident people. That’s why they’re on the court.”
Knuckles totaled 41 digs in seven sets and was named to the all-tournament team, an impressive feat for a converted outside hitter playing in one of the most important positions on the court.
“She’s got to pass at a high level, which she did Friday night; Saturday night was a little rough,” Cook said. “She’s got to set out-of-system balls. She’s got to continue to become a better server. I think she took a big step in running the court, managing everything, running the court, she was on top of things. For a freshman the first weekend out — talking to her about owning the court, it’s her court — and I thought she did a really good job of that.”
The “owning the court” part is as important for a libero as the physical defense, and like setter Nicklin Hames for the offense last year, she’s being thrown into the fire.
“Just like Nicklin runs our offense, she’s got to run our defense,” Cook said. “She’s got to be talking to the blockers, the back row. She’s out there all the time; our outsides are only back there three rotations, the setter is back there three rotations, but she’s back there five-and-a-half rotations so she’s got to run that part of it. Like I said, she did a really good job of that and was really confident. For her first time out, it was pretty good. We’ll see if she can do it on the road now.”
After opening the season in the friendly confines of the Devaney Center, the Huskers are hitting the road this week to play in the USD Invitational in San Diego.
“We’ve got two ranked teams we’re playing and I want to see us do a good job on the road trip and go in there and play good volleyball,” Cook said. “We’re going to San Diego; I don’t want them to think it’s a vacation, we’re going there to take care of business. It’s a road trip and it’s a great preparation for the Big Ten going back-to-back, so that’s another reason we wanted to do it. We start off the Big Ten on a road trip back-to-back, so this is great prep. We’ll frame it as this is preparing for the Big Ten and we’ve got to go out and perform.”
Nebraska faces Arizona on Friday at 6 p.m. and San Diego on Saturday at 9 p.m.
“We’re going to San Diego for a couple reasons,” Cook said. “One, Lexi [Sun] is from there and any time we take a road trip we like to go where our players are from. It’s close to Lauren [Stivrins], closer to Arizona, so it’s just kind of a way to go back there. Of course, I’m from San Diego and the last time we were back there playing was the 2001 Final Four at San Diego State plus the national championship, so I kind of wanted to go back.
“Ironically, both the USD head coach and the associate coach, I coached both of them. Brent [Hilliard] I coached with the USA men and Jen [Petrie] was on my club team in San Diego right before I came to Nebraska. So I’ve got some good connections there and I also graduated from the University of San Diego with a degree in history in case you guys wanted to know that.”
Neither match will be televised but John Baylor and Lauren West will have the radio call on the Husker Sports Network.
The Wildcats (2-1) dropped out of the top 25 after losing to Samford on Saturday, though they still received 19 votes. San Diego went 1-2 at the Rainbow Wahine Classic over the weekend, losing to Hawaii and No. 13 Washington before bouncing back to sweep St. John’s. The Toreros dropped from No. 21 to No. 25.
After losing to Nebraska and Baylor, Creighton dropped from No. 18 to No. 23.
For the second straight week, the Big Ten placed five teams in the top eight of the poll and seven teams in the top 25 in total, and two others received votes.
This week’s poll has Wisconsin at No. 4, Illinois at No. 5, Penn State at No. 6, Minnesota at No. 8, Michigan at No. 14 and Purdue at No. 18. Iowa received 21 votes (putting them 31st) and Maryland received 14 (37th).
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.