By Lincoln Arneal
John Cook wants his players to stop robbing Lexi Rodriguez, Laney Choboy and Bekka Allick.
Every time a serve is missed, the Nebraska coach said, it takes away a dig for Rodriguez or Choboy to add to her tally or for Allick to record another block.
“They’re stealing right now so they’re gonna serve it in or they’re going to jail,” Cook said.
Nebraska, which stayed No. 2 in this week’s AVCA poll, has committed 89 service errors this season, almost seven per match. The Huskers committed double that amount this past weekend during wins at Purdue and Indiana, with a combined 28 errors, including 10 from freshman Harper Murray. Meanwhile, they only recorded four aces on the weekend.
Rodriguez only recorded six digs against No. 17 Purdue as the Boilermakers hit away from the junior All-American libero. The Huskers also ended 12 rallies before they started with errant serves.
“When we’re missing serves, we’re taking away those opportunities,” Cook said. “It’s the fine line you’re living on trying to serve tough and keep it in, but you don’t want to serve too easy.”
Part of the issue might have been playing in unfamiliar environments. Of the five times NU has recorded double-digit errors, three came on the road – Purdue, Indiana and 12 at Stanford. The Huskers committed 12 errors while battling the wind during the Memorial Stadium match and finished with 10 errors in a sweep against Long Beach State.
Cook said the stress and nerves of playing in those environments – sometimes with the student section mere feet away – may have caused a few more mistakes than usual.
“We talk about routine all the time,” he said. “You’ve got to have a great routine so it doesn’t matter where you are, what the situation is when you serve, but we obviously let our routines get away from us.”
Serving wasn’t the only area Cook felt his team got exposed on the first weekend road trip of the season. He said players became undisciplined and made mental mistakes that caused the defensive system to break down.
Purdue hit .229 while the Hoosiers finished terminating at a .168 clip for two of the top four attack percentages by NU opponents this season.
Cook credited Indiana setter Camryn Haworth for making the Huskers uncomfortable, but teams are scouting NU better and can prepare for their tendencies. Now, he’s hoping the lessons from the weekend will help his team improve for the rest of the season.
“We got punched in the mouth. We were on the ropes,” he said. “We were having a hard time and we found a way to hang in there and stay with it and find a way to win two matches.”
After winning 10 replay challenges over the weekend, Cook declared the performance a record.
It’s not too bold of a claim, as the current challenge system has only existed for two seasons. Previously, a coach would get three challenges for an entire match and lose them regardless of the outcome of the review.
Now, coaches get two challenges. If they are correct, they get to keep it, and if they are wrong, it goes away. Coaches receive an additional challenge if the match goes five sets, with a maximum of two available in the final frame.
“The game is getting so fast and the players are hitting the ball so hard,” Cook said. “We’ve got linespeople that are not used to it and can’t follow it that fast and so they’re missing a lot, and the refs are missing a lot. Thank goodness we got challenges and decent video cameras.”
Cook would like the system improved with high-speed cameras to help with the quality of the review. Sometimes calls are upheld because video quality is insufficient for officials to determine otherwise.
Cook credited assistant coach Jaylen Reyes for helping him decide when to play the green card. He said he wants a reward since he has such a good success rate.
“I would like to start getting bonuses for every one I win,” Cook said.
Back on the Bench
NU assistant coach Jordan Larson will be on the bench when the Huskers visit Michigan after missing last weekend.
Cook said Larson’s absence at Purdue and Indiana was planned as the former Husker star had other obligations while settling back in Lincoln.
Graduate manager Nicklin Hames has also been missing from the sidelines the last few weeks. Cook said Hames is dealing with back issues and her treatment keeps her from participating in practice. She’s limited to an office role for now while she recovers.
Three Nebraska players earned Big Ten weekly awards on Monday, adding to their haul for the year.
Merritt Beason won her second straight player-of-the-week award. The junior opposite hitter led NU with 4.56 kills per set on a .384 hitting percentage to go with 2.33 digs per set. She set a career-high with 22 kills against Indiana while hitting .400.
Cook said he’s been impressed with Beason’s development this season and the intangibles she brings to the team. She’s always contributing as a server, on defense and blocking and attacking.
“She’s just calm in the storm,” he said. The things she says are very mature and experienced wisdom. During matches, when it’s stressed out, she calms everybody down. She’s got gifts.”
Bergen Reilly earned her second straight weekly setter award, sharing it with Penn State’s Mac Podraza. The 6-foot-1 freshman averaged 11.89 assists per set and 1.89 digs per set with eight kills and a pair of service aces, leading the Huskers to a .323 hitting percentage on the road.
Harper Murray was tabbed freshman of the week for the third time this season. She posted 4.22 kills per set and 1.67 digs per set while hitting .278 over the weekend. She also set a career-high as she recorded 21 kills against Purdue.
She delivered in the clutch with four kills for the Huskers’ final four points in the fifth set. Cook said he enjoys Murray’s attitude to step up in the big moments and demand the ball when the team needs a point.
“One of the highlights of this year was for me, Harper hits a ball, she hits the crap out of it. Their libero digs it right to the setter. You watch Harper on video, she’s just clapping and screaming at Bergen, ‘Set me again.’ That’s what you want … you can’t coach that stuff.”