By Lincoln Arneal
And so it begins.
Nebraska officially kicked off its 2023 season on Tuesday morning with the first of two practices scheduled for the day. All 14 players, plus the Huskers coaches and managers, were ready to tip off the fall season at the Devaney Center.
The theme song from last season, “Red Kingdom” by Tech N9ne, blared from the speakers as the players stretched and warmed up.
The day kicks off a three-week sprint before NU takes on Utah State on Aug. 25. The Huskers have much to figure out before then, but that was all secondary as they were all back in the gym putting in the work before the season.
Here are a few thoughts and observations from the first practice:
>> This didn’t feel like a first practice. While there might have been some nerves for their first official fall practice, all the drills looked like staples. Coaches didn’t have to spend much time explaining what they wanted from each exercise. It helps that the entire group has been together since January and had six weeks of training in the spring, plus a few bonus weeks before the Brazil trip in May. This might be the first practice of the fall, but the group of players is comfortable with each other, the expectations and with the ins-and-outs of a Nebraska practice.
>> Everyone was at practice and practiced without limitations. Assistant coach Kelly Hunter worked closely with the setters – junior Kennedi Orr and freshman Bergen Reilly – on the side while the rest of the group focused on passing. However, after practicing fully in the morning, Orr did not practice in the afternoon session. She has dealt with knee injuries in the past and sat out the beach season to protect her. When asked last week during Big Ten media days, Cook said everyone was physically ready for fall camp.
>> Serving was the top emphasis early. Service errors were a point of frustration for the Huskers last season. NU missed 261 serves in 2022, almost 2.4 per match. In addition, NU coach John Cook wants aggressive serving to keep opponents off balance. “Want to be a team where teams fear our serve,” Cook told the group before a serving drill. They integrated some techniques picked up from Brazil, focusing on stretching their arms, popping the ball and dropping their hand.
>> Passing was a close secondary focus. NU ran several drills that combined serve/receive and out-of-system passing, making it a competition for players to put the setter in the perfect position to run the offense. Nearly every player took reps passing serves.
>> Hitting wasn’t a priority yet. During some drills, the graduate managers took big swings into a block focused on covering hitters. NU players didn’t spend much time working on attacking. Serving and passing are clearly the priority now.
>> It wasn’t all just volleyball. Midway through practice, Cook gathered the team and told them to close their eyes and stand there for 30 seconds thinking of something positive. After the brief reset, NU went about practice.