Nebraska volleyball’s annual Red-White Scrimmage is just a few days away, yet Coach John Cook is not yet sure what format the match will take or who will be playing for each side.
“We would like to play regular match, but I really haven’t thought about it yet,” Cook said after practice on Wednesday. “I would like play five games, a regular match … We don’t have a top side yet so. So we’ll have to decide that by Saturday. We’ve been rotating everybody.”
Traditionally, the Red team is made up of the starting group while the back-ups play for the White. With less than two weeks of practice under their belts and a whole lot of competition, however, Cook said he couldn’t even come up with a starting lineup if he had to.
“We talk about it every day,” Cook said. “I have no idea. We’re going to have to make a decision at some point. So, we’ll figure out Saturday night, if we try to go with a starting lineup or we just make even teams or how we’re going to do.”
Fortunately, everyone except for Lauren Stivrins should be available for Saturday’s scrimmage. That includes freshman setter Kennedi Orr, who is coming off a torn ACL and just got cleared at the start of practice.
“She’s involved, I would say, in 90% of what we’re doing, but we pace her a little bit and some things,” Cook said. “She’s making really good progress, and we’ve just got to be careful we don’t overdo it with her in two-a-days.”
Nicklin Hames is secure as the starting setter, but every other position is up for grabs at this point, and Cook said he loves that uncertainty right now.
“I think all the outside hitter positions and in the middle without having Lauren, it’s wide open,” Cook said. “And then we have basically three liberos who are all competing. So I would say everywhere that — Nicklin pushes herself. Kennedi’s not quite there yet. Anni [Evans] does a great job for her role. But every other position, great competition.”
That competition is what’s most impressed Cook through their first week-and-a-half of practices.
“We’re playing with what’s the saying, ‘all gas no brakes?’ That’s how they’re playing right now, and it’s been every day in our six-on-six drills,” Cook said. “They’re playing really, really hard. And I think last year we got away with that and didn’t didn’t do that as well. And part of it is because there wasn’t competition for some spots. We had nobody else. So, I think, how hard they’re playing right now is what’s been impressing me the most, and usually you see it a couple days in the honeymoon phase. But I mean, yesterday … it was just high-level intensity of competition … High level for an hour-and-a-half, and it’s been like that every day. That’s what’s impressed me the most.”
Saturday will be the Huskers’ first opportunity to show the fans what they can do, and Cook said he’s really lookin forward to playing in of a packed Devaney Center.
“It’s been two years,” Cook said. “I want them to see what this team is capable of doing. I think it’s going to be some really exciting volleyball. So that’s what I’m most fired up about. And again, my, my big thing is I’m going to be trying to get our fans to make this a home game, where there’s cheering for both teams. So we’re gonna have to have a conversation before we start to get these fans fired up because some of them I know don’t like to cheer against certain players. We want to make these freshmen go through a full crowd of Devaney, so they’re used to it for next weekend.”
Last year’s freshmen did not get that opportunity as the Red-White Scrimmage took place in an empty gym while Nebraska streamed it for the fans. Fans will be back in the stands this season and Saturday will provide the young Huskers a chance to experience that without any stakes.
“Coach texted like two weeks ago, he was like ’15 days until the freshmen pee on the floor,’” Hames said. “When you play in front of that many fans, the nerves are obviously there, so having a Red-White, where we play in front of the fans is so important so that you’re used to having that pressure of the fans and you can get more comfortable being in the environment.”
The scrimmage is a big deal for the upperclassmen as well and the excitement level is high throughout the program.
“I’m excited, the team’s excited, the coaches are excited,” Kenzie Knuckles said. “We’re all just super stoked just because of the Nebraska fanbase. That’s what we’re used to, we’re used to the 8,000 people in Devaney. So last year was a little bit uncomfortable for us. I think the fans do a lot to motivate us and we play for them, give them entertainment and stuff, so it was very different for us not playing with fans last year. So I think we’re all super stoked to be able to have that extra drive and motivation with us in the gym.”
Cook said they’re planning to do some “cool stuff” before and during the match, though he didn’t want to give too much away. Cook was blown away by the team poster Nebraska will unveil during the match and he said fans that are wearing masks will get a chance to interact in some way with the team, though they will not hold an autograph session afterwards like usual.
In other news, Cook said the team planned to pick its captains on Thursday night, though it won’t be as simple as a team vote.
“They’re gonna have a lot of input but they have to be able to back up their input and explain why,” Cook said. “So we’re going to go through that exercise with them on who they feel the captains are and why and then we’ll announce by Saturday.”
First serve for the Red-White Scrimmage is set for 6 p.m. CT on Saturday at the Devaney Center. Out of the desire for safety, Nebraska is encouraging fans who attend to wears masks.
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.