The timing for this topic couldn’t be better. Within the past two weeks, we have seen Kathryn Plummer (Stanford) and Dana Rettke (Wisconsin0, two of the nation’s top players, both out for matches. We have seen Illinois and Colorado, teams that went far in the tournament last year, struggle with injuries from the beginning of the season. And we saw one of Nebraska’s own players, Capri Davis, announce that she will be taking a medical hardship.
However, other than her, Nebraska has been lucky this season and almost every other season since Coach John Cook took over as a head coach on the injury front. There is good reason for this and I am going to talk in depth about two of those reasons in this week’s Lo-Down.
Jolene Emricson is the long-time Husker volleyball trainer. She is also one of the best athletic trainers for volleyball in the country. She attends every practice, match and conditioning session. She is constantly doing rehab with players who may have sore, overused muscles or who may have tweaked something. She provides post-match recovery options for the starters, whether it is an ice bath or slipping on the NormaTec, she makes sure they are immediately receiving the recovery they need. She has the entire team doing “pre-rehab” exercises every single day before practice in order to keep their bodies in the best shape possible and to help prevent injuries. I can vividly remember disliking having to take an extra 5 to 10 minutes each day to do some of these exercises, however, I now realize their importance and how they kept our bodies injury-free throughout.
Not only does Jolene take care of the volleyball athletes who are currently in the program, but she also assists the coaches and former players. For example, Coach Cook underwent hip replacement surgery last winter and Jolene took over all of his rehab. While I was playing professionally overseas, I was having some wrist pain and she was able to diagnose what was going on through a Facetime call. To add to all of that, she even finds time between taking care of the athletes and coaching staff to mentor college students who are in the athletic training program hoping to become an athletic trainer someday. She is a busy woman, but she has one of the most important roles in the program. Her role plays a major part in keeping the Huskers injury free.
Nebraska’s other secret weapon is Brian Kmitta, who is the volleyball strength coach. He has been behind all of the success the Big Red has had over the past few years. I have heard multiple fans make comments about how athletic and strong our players look at all times. Well, that is mainly thanks to Brian. He trains these athletes year round, from lifting weights during the season to getting ready for the beach and spring season and then conditioning every single day in the summer. He knows how to push athletes to their max, but he does it in a way where they will not destroy their bodies. He listens to the players when they are tried, he adjusts workouts when needed, but most importantly, he gets the team in tip-top shape, so they are able to play back-to-back nights and stay powerful throughout a five-set match. He also focuses on how they are landing when they go up to jump and how they are moving when they go lateral for a ball. He makes sure to correct the athlete’s technique, which helps prevent injuries in the long run.
Some of Brian’s other duties include warming up the players before matches, taking them through stretching after practices and traveling with the team. If Nebraska is on the road and gets in late, he is having the players roll out on foam rollers, stretch with large bands and if they need to get moving, he will also take them through some sort of movement series. Without Brian, a lot of what you see from Nebraska volleyball would be different and I am not sure the Huskers would win some of those Big Ten match-ups or national championships if they didn’t have a strength coach as good as him.
I know I have said this a few times before, but there are so many other key components to this program outsides of the players and Coach Cook. I do know the players and coaches have a lot to do with the success Nebraska has seen, but I strongly believe that without people like Jolene Emricson, Brian Kmitta, Lindsay Peterson and Wendy Cook, just to name a few that we have previously talked about, then we wouldn’t be where we are at today. There is a saying that goes along the lines of this, “everyone sees the glory, but they don’t see what goes on behind the scenes.”
Well, Jolene and Brian are two people you won’t see in the spotlight, but they are constantly working behind the scenes to keep the Huskers one of the best and healthiest volleyball teams in the country.
Lauren joined Hail Varsity in 2017 as a contributing writer covering Nebraska Volleyball. Lauren played volleyball at UCLA in 2009 and then finished her collegiate volleyball career at the University of Nebraska from 2010-2012. After college, she played professional volleyball in Switzerland and Puerto Rico before making her way back to Lincoln. Lauren considers herself a wine connoisseur and a major “foodie” and she also loves to travel the world. Lauren and her husband, Jason, married in 2018.