By Lincoln Arneal
Welcome to the grind.
Starting Friday night, Nebraska kicks off the Big Ten schedule with 20 matches over 10 weeks. The schedule will be daunting with six league schools ranked in the Top 11, plus three others receiving votes.
The Huskers start the Big Ten season by hosting Michigan State on Friday night before welcoming No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday. Both matches are at 7 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
To sophomore Lindsay Krause, the grind means No. 3 Nebraska can’t take any days off. The Big Ten is the best volleyball conference in the country and every team is capable of upsetting a league favorite. For example, Maryland, which finished ninth in the league a year ago, opened Big Ten play by knocking off eventual national champion Wisconsin during the first weekend of the conference schedule last season.
“We got 20 matches over the next 10 weeks to prove the kind of team we can be when it comes time for the NCAA tournament,” Krause said. “I feel like we all know the challenge it brings, and we’re all excited for that.”
NU coach John Cook relishes this part of the season. Nebraska is chasing its first conference title since 2017 and hoping to end Wisconsin’s three-year reign.
“Some of the teams in the other conferences, they may not play another Top 10-ranked team for the next 10 weeks. We’re gonna be playing a Top 10 team every week,” he said. “We got to go from good to great.”
Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick said she was a little anxious entering her first Big Ten season, but after playing No. 5 Stanford and No. 15 Kentucky last week, she’s feeling more confident.
The loss to the Cardinal helped point out some areas Nebraska needs to clean up, such as their serving and offensive miscues late in the set. They also saw the challenges a big, physical team posed and learned how to adjust the attack.
Allick said they applied some of those lessons against Kentucky, which helped them earn the sweep. Now in the Big Ten, Allick said they need to keep their head down, grind and respect every team across the net.
“Like Coach says, any win in the Big Ten is a good win,” Allick said. “It’s coming this weekend, and so I’m excited.”
Last year when conference season started, Cook settled on a consistent lineup after rotating outside hitters for most of the nonconference matches.
Nebraska has used a different combination of players for each match this year. Cook said he would like to settle on one lineup, but injuries have forced him to move players around. Setter Nicklin Hames is likely to miss this weekend’s matches, but outside hitter Ally Batenhorst could make a return from an abdominal injury.
Krause has played both on the left and right side in the front row but doesn’t mind all the changes. The Omaha Skutt graduate said everyone knows that the nonconference schedule will involve experimentation as the Huskers figure out the lineup that helps them succeed. Her goal is just to keep a positive attitude and think about the big picture.
“I will do whatever we can to win,” she said. “I just want to be on a winning team and if that means I’m playing right outside, cool. If that means playing outside, cool. If that means I’m not in the lineup, that sucks for me, but cool. I want to be on a team that’s gonna win.”
BIG PREP MARKS — Three future Huskers all reached significant milestones this week.
Harper Murray, the second-ranked 2023 recruit, reached 2,000 kills for Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. The senior outside hitter averages more than six kills per set with a .434 hitting percentage.
Sky Pierce joined the 1,000 career kills club at Olathe (Kan.) Northwest. The junior is the No. 2 ranked player in her class and is averaging 5.7 kills per set with a .350 hitting percentage.
Bennington junior Olivia Mauch tied a school record with 38 digs against Elkhorn. The No. 26th-rated prospect also eclipsed the school dig record with 1,358 career digs.
NEARING 800 — After sweeping Kentucky, Cook now has 799 career victories and a win this weekend could be another coaching milestone.
Since taking over Nebraska in 2000, Cook has won 637 matches with a .874 winning percentage, the best in the nation in that period. He amassed the other 162 wins in seven years at Wisconsin.
Krause said she is impressed by the impact he’s had in his 30 years as a head coach.
“It’s really cool to see him evolve over the years that he’s coached,” she said. “He’s been a different coach to every team and changed so much over the years.”