By Lincoln Arneal
CHICAGO — Watch out for those young dogs. They bite.
As many Big Ten teams prepare for the upcoming season, they tout rosters full of veteran players and fifth-year seniors. Not Nebraska. The Huskers don’t even have any fourth-year players.
During Big Ten volleyball media days, which started here on Tuesday and run through Wednesday, NU coach John Cook said he isn’t worried about his team’s youth and inexperience because the game doesn’t know how old you are.
“If a dog is going to bite, it’s going to bite as a pup. These guys need to be ready to come out and get after it,” Cook said at Big Ten Network headquarters. “We’re going to be young and aggressive, and these guys are going to be fearless, and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Cook and NU captains Lexi Rodriguez and Merritt Beason – both juniors – met with the media during the second annual event. They also conducted interviews for BTN studio shows, created digital content and recorded other league marketing materials.
Even though the Huskers lack experience compared to other Big Ten teams, they have developed chemistry through playing together during the past seven months and going on a two-week trip to Brazil.
The trip will pay dividends this fall as they figure out how all the pieces fit together, Beason said.
“On the court, obviously, it was huge for us to have a chance to play together before the fall season starts, but also off the court, just being able to get closer with one another and build those connections was also really huge.”
Even though she was a captain last season, Rodriguez said she is still learning how to be a leader on the team. Since they learned of their selection on the way back from Brazil in mid-June, Rodrigeuz and Beason have talked daily to figure out how best to lead the team. Beason has earned the role of team mother, while Rodriguez plays the role of listener and developing close relationships with each player.
Rodriguez said she had several moments this spring when she realized it was up to her to step up and take charge now that Kenzie Knuckles, Madi Kubik and others are gone.
“It was kind of hard at first,” the defensive specialist said. “Once we got to indoor (season), it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ Usually, Kenzie is the one who says that. Now it’s gotta be me or someone else. We’re the oldest ones. In the spring, I think we still thought of ourselves as underclassmen, so (we are) just trying to get outside our comfort zone and be the leaders because we have to be now.”
The big topic everyone wanted to discuss on Tuesday was the Huskers’ match in front of more than 90,000 people in Memorial Stadium.
Cook said he went to a Dead and Company concert in July. While he was there for the music, he said he also wanted to check out the atmosphere for the show, which started at 6:30 p.m. in front of 30,000 fans.
“I thought this would be perfect just to get the feeling,” Cook said. “My adrenaline and goosebumps were going through the roof. I’m just thinking of trying to take that, what it’s going to be like playing a volleyball match in Memorial Stadium where they’re actually cheering for our team.”
Rodriguez said now that the calendar has flipped to August, the idea of the match in front of a sold-out stadium has become much more real. When the match gets closer, she will be checking the weather forecast nonstop.
“Initially, it just seemed so far away and just something so big that is this really happening? It was more like we’re in denial,” she said. “Now that it’s in the same month, it’s like whoa, we are actually playing in front of that many people. It’s just gonna be indescribable.”
The Huskers sold out of standing-room-only tickets during the past month and expect to set a world record for a women’s sporting event, beating the Real Madrid-Barcaola soccer match that drew 91,553 fans in 2022. However, commentators on BTN raised the possibility that NU’s record might not be officially recognized since a concert by Scotty McCreery will follow the volleyball match.
For now, the Huskers are enjoying the start of the season. NU will start practices next week. Cook said they already felt like rock stars during media days. In addition to the interviews and videos, the coaches and players from all 14 teams gathered for dinner Tuesday night.
Beason said she enjoyed the festivities around media days. Even though she played against Big Ten teams when she was at Florida, she is still learning what it takes to compete in her new league.
“Today was very mind-blowing just because it’s so cool for them to put on an event like this of this level for volleyball,” she said. “It’s very cool to be a part of something so cool to experience. It’s something I’ll definitely remember.”
Quote of the day
Cook said he’s got a lot of decisions coming on the lineup at outside hitter and setter. When asked about the setting position, Cook said he was impressed by how Bergen Reilly performed during the Brazil trip. He recalled one moment when nerves got the best of the freshman. On the second play against the Brazil Military Selection Team, Reilly froze during a play and was called for a double touch. However, she soon settled in and helped the Huskers pull out a five-set win.
When asked if he can remember any other time he’s seen Reilly uncomfortable, Cook struggled to think of another moment for the usually unflappable setter.
“She reminds me of Bud Crawford,” he said. “She’s got the look. She’s an assassin.”
Crawford, the Omaha boxer, handed Errol Spence Jr. his first career loss Saturday night in dominating fashion while claiming welterweight supremacy. Cook said he had never bought a pay-per-view fight before, but it was worth every penny.
“Did you watch that fight? It was unbelievable,” Cook said. “But just look at his face. He was locked in.”
Big Ten television schedule announced
The league unveiled its broadcast schedule Tuesday morning, and Nebraska will have 20 of its 29 regular-season matches televised.
The Huskers will play on BTN 14 times, five times on Nebraska Public Media and the match at Stanford will be on ESPNU. The Volleyball Day in Nebraska festivities on Aug. 30 in Memorial Stadium will be available on BTN.
NU’s other nine matches will be streamed – eight on B1G+ while the Kansas State match will be available via ESPN+. All the matches on BTN will be streamed on FoxSports.com.
The Huskers’ opener against Utah State will be shown on NPM, while the other two matches that weekend will be available on streaming. Home matches against Long Beach State (Sept. 9), Michigan State (Oct. 13), Northwestern (Nov. 8) and Illinois (Nov. 12) will also be shown on NPM. For those outside the state, those contests will be streamed on B1G+.