By Lincoln Arneal
When the Nebraska volleyball schedule was unveiled five months ago, the last two weeks stood out as a make-or-break stretch that could determine whether or not the Huskers could claim a Big Ten championship.
Now with that time here, the Huskers are in the thick of the title race. They are in third place in the standings, just one game behind Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The final stretch starts on Friday at 6 p.m. when No. 6 NU travels to Iowa for its last league road match. Then the Huskers begin a three-match homestand on Sunday against No. 19 Purdue. They close the season next week versus No. 3 Wisconsin and No. 9 Minnesota.
“They know what’s at stake,” NU coach John Cook said at his Tuesday press conference.” We are still right there. Everybody’s playing everybody. In the next 12 days, there’s gonna be a lot of big matches with a lot on the line. It’s great. And we’re in the thick of it.”
To win the Big Ten crown, NU will need some help to catch Ohio State. The Buckeyes also close their season by hosting Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Huskers are still smarting from Sunday’s four-set loss at OSU. However, they were confident they could still learn from the setback and clean up the mistakes.
Senior outside hitter Madi Kubik said they can still put themselves in a good position for the final stretch and the postseason by learning from that loss.
“We try to look to each other in those times of adversity,” she said. “There are also some things that we know we can get better at and look at all those things as positive that we didn’t lose, we just didn’t win.”
The remaining schedule works in NU’s favor. Not only do they have most of their matches at home, but the Huskers play Friday-Sunday schedule for the final three weeks of the regular season after playing in the midweek matches for the past month.
“It just gives you a couple of days in the middle of the week to really work on you and train,” Cook said. “Opposed to just trying to manage – you got to keep it fresh for Wednesday, got to recover, we got one day to prepare for a Saturday match.”
The downside is they don’t get a full day off as student-athletes still have classes during their day off. Cook said he ran into a player on Monday who told him she had just completed her classwork and was going to decompress for six hours.
Sophomore Ally Batenhorst said they need to focus on their side of the net and play with an edge. She said they embrace the grind of the homestretch and put in the work every day in practice. During matches, they need to bring more energy and focus on being competitive on every point.
“That’s going to allow us to finish those big matches,” she said. “Every team on the other side of the net is going to be good at this point, and we just really need to have that mentality knowing that we need to come together and finish those crucial moments.”