Cook Likes the Competitive Fire From His Team

By Lincoln Arneal

The stands were empty, the scores didn’t matter and plenty of kinks were still being worked out. 

But don’t try to tell that the scrimmage against Creighton last Friday didn’t matter to members of the Nebraska volleyball team. Before the first competition this spring against a different team, NU coach John Cook said a couple of the freshmen lost their breath.

“These guys get really fired up,” Cook said on Tuesday. “We gotta learn how to control that a little bit, but it’s fun to see that because they’re just so fired up to play.” 

Even Harper Murray, who was named the top recruit in the nation by, got caught up in the moment. 

“Maybe a little bit,” Murray said when asked if she was one of the freshmen struggling to breathe before the scrimmage. “I’m still getting used to those big moments, but I think overall, I think we played really well as a team.”

The scrimmage came together last minute thanks to a calendar quirk that gave the Huskers an extra week of practice after spring break. Nebraska split its roster into two complete teams and swapped them between sets. Murray said she was glad the Huskers pulled out a victory. 

While spring scrimmages can be a mixed bag because of an incomplete roster, Cook said he was impressed with Creighton’s lineup and said both teams competed at a high level. In addition, the competitive fire he sees daily in practice carried over to the scrimmage. 

“I would pay to watch these practices,” he said. “These practices are awesome.”

Murray said the scrimmage featured a lot of learning moments. They are still figuring out how to play together and building trust and confidence in each other. 

Murray said she’s also grown a lot during her first months of college volleyball. She enjoyed adjusting during the beach season and learning from her partner, junior Merritt Beason. One lesson she’s learned is how to deal with the mental side of the game and try not to get in her head too much and play more consistently. 

“Merritt was a great beach partner for me,” Murray said. “She’s a very calm and a competent person. I think that she was one of the people that’s helped me give grace to myself. I’m very lucky that I have her on the court with me because she’s a very good teammate and a good leader.”

SET ON ONE SETTER — Cook said the Huskers have not practiced any 6-2 offense this spring. 

Last year, NU ran almost exclusively a two-setter system with Nicklin Hames, Anni Evans and Kennedi Orr splitting time running the offense. With Hames out of eligibility and Evans set to transfer to San Diego, Orr is taking turns with freshman Bergen Reilly at setter. 

Cook said he hasn’t figured out how they will divide up playing time Saturday against Wichita State. 

“They’re competing this week, so we’ll see,” he said. “The last two days, we go tomorrow and then we’ll decide the starting lineup.”

Cook said he planned to designate a top group and then try to get everyone else into the match.

LEADERS STEPPING UP — After several consecutive miscues in practice, Beason asked Cook if they could have a moment to regroup. 

Players from both sides of the net circled up and talked amongst themselves. After the break, the Huskers played much more sharply and focused on the drill. 

While the Huskers have not announced their captains or leadership structure yet, he’s been offering optional leadership workshops every week. 

“I think everybody has shown up,” he said. “So obviously, they’re interested in learning how to be leaders and growing in that area.”

AWARD SEASON — The Nebraska athletic department hosted its annual award banquet on Sunday night with several volleyball players earning awards. 

Evans earned the Outstanding Scholar Award for having a GPA higher than 3.9 and graduating in May. She also won the Elite 90 award in 2021 for the highest GPA amongst the Final Four teams. 

Hames won the Heart and Soul award for her volunteerism and leadership, while Bekka Allick was named one of 27 recipients of the Sam Foltz Hero Leadership Award.

BRISK SALES — Tickets went on sale Tuesday for the Aug. 30 Volleyball Day matches in Memorial Stadium to season ticket holders and volleyball alums, and the response was strong. 

While sales numbers were unavailable, reports of busy phone lines and an overwhelmed website were common on the first day of availability. 

The public can purchase tickets starting Wednesday at 10 a.m.

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