Having played in the Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten, I speak from experience when I say this: The Big Ten is by far the most difficult conference to play in.
What makes the conference such a challenge? First off, the majority of the teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the top 25 most years. The latest rankings included seven conference teams with five in the top 10, but it goes beyond conference strength.
The real kicker is having to play back to back nights, which the Huskers will do this weekend. How do you prepare to play Wisconsin on a Friday night and Minnesota on a Saturday? All while traveling to those destinations, trying to balance school work that you might be missing and dealing with the preparation process that comes with playing two top-10 teams in the same weekend? I will lay it all out for you in this week’s Lo-Down.
We will start with how Nebraska volleyball gets to its destination. A charter flight takes the team plus staff members the day before the match. If the Huskers play Wisconsin Friday night, the charter will depart Thursday. Sometimes Coach John Cook likes practicing at the Devaney Center and then taking off. Other times the flight will leave earlier in the day so it allows time for the team to practice wherever it will be playing the following night.
Upon arrival, either practice will happen, or it already has, but video is always mandatory. After video there is usually a meal provided and then the players have the rest of the night to either work on homework or do a therapy session with Jolene Emricson, longtime trainer for Nebraska volleyball. The next morning breakfast is served along with a quick video session before the Huskers’ gameday serve-and-pass practice. A serve-and-pass practice just means that they usually work on serving and passing, getting used to the gym and players are not jumping or attacking so they save energy for the game.
After serve and pass, there is another video session and then the pre-match meal is served four hours before game time. If there is any downtime, most players either finish up homework, catch up on the latest Netflix show or take a nap. After the game, the charter will then take the team to the next location. Sometimes, Nebraska isn’t getting to its next location until after midnight, which can really wear on the athletes if you have to play an exhausting match and then travel late at night.
Bottom line, playing in the Big Ten, especially on the road and competing back to back nights, is beyond difficult. For a player it comes down to managing your school work, recovering as quickly as possible and getting in as much sleep as you can.
Looking back, I don’t know how my body and mind managed. However, having coaches who prepare you, professors who understand your situation and a trainer who makse sure you are getting the necessary recovery certainly helps. That’s why Nebraska volleyball cares so much about the support system it has built around the program.
On the road in this conference, it can be the difference between winning and losing.