By Lincoln Arneal
During its weekend trip to the East Coast, Nebraska could spend time exploring the bright lights of New York City or go sightseeing around Washington, D.C.
However, the third-ranked Huskers are more likely to spend time in a restaurant, coffee house or in the team hotel during their road trip to play at Rutgers and Maryland.
“We’re still business, but it gives us time to connect, which I like. We have some free time,” NU coach John Cook said.
Cook uses these road trips to check in and connect with the student-athletes. He will eat meals with the Huskers, check in on their goals and watch video with them. When they are at home, schedules are much busier, so when they get a few days on the road, especially on the weekend, they can shift their focus to internal matters.
This year, more than others, the Huskers will be making longer road trips during the Big Ten season.
During the next two weekends, the Huskers will play two matches with a day in between. The host schools made the requests to move matches from Saturday to Sunday.
Maryland football hosts Michigan State Saturday afternoon this weekend, so they pushed volleyball back a day. Next weekend, Michigan State is hosting its midnight basketball madness event on Friday, Oct. 7, so volleyball, which also uses the Breslin Center, was moved up to Thursday.
Cook wasn’t sure if he preferred road trips with back-to-back matches or a day in between.
The extra travel day allows them to spend a day prepping specifically on the back opponent and time to recover. It also incurs more hotel, food and transportation costs.
However, playing the last match on Saturday allows players to completely take the next day off. When the Huskers play on Sunday, they take Monday off but still have classes.
“From a coach’s perspective, I like it, but it’s a lot of time sitting in the hotel and sitting around,” Cook said. “We’ll have to see. We haven’t done this before.”
Nebraska defeated Michigan State and Ohio State on consecutive days last weekend, but before that hadn’t played on back-to-back days since the season’s opening weekend. The Huskers only have one more doubleheader weekend – the final two matches when they host Wisconsin and Minnesota Nov. 25-26.
While other schools shy away from playing volleyball matches on the same day as home football games, Cook embraces it.
The NU volleyball program receives strong administrative support to make it happen and the players also prefer it. Plus the weekend doubleheader allows season ticket holders from central and western Nebraska to drive in and watch multiple sporting events.
“What’s great is they come in for football, volleyball, make it a great day,” Cook said. “Spend the weekend in Lincoln. Hotels like it. (Bars) like it. So everybody’s happy.”
HAMES COMEBACK CLOSE? — Two weeks after leaving the Stanford match with a back injury, senior setter Nicklin Hames has not practiced. Cook said following the match she just needed time to get back to full strength.
Cook hopes she will return to practice this week as she worked with strength and conditioning coordinator Brian Kmitta on Monday.
NU STAYS THIRD — The Huskers stayed No. 3 in this week’s AVCA poll behind Texas and Louisville. The top four remained consistent as San Diego also won both matches last week.
Purdue was the week’s big mover as it rose six spots to No. 5. Ohio State rose one spot to No. 6 after losing to Nebraska and was followed by Minnesota and Wisconsin, who also lost a match last week.
Penn State, which suffered its first loss of the year to Michigan, fell three spots to No. 12. The Wolverines weren’t able to break the rankings as they were the first teams listed among those receiving votes.
SERVES GONE AWRY — In the 20 years before this season, no team had missed more than 16 serves in Devaney Center. However, this year that mark has been exceeded twice.
Stanford committed 23 service errors in a four-set victory against the Huskers and then on Saturday, Ohio State tallied 19 errant serves. Nebraska wasn’t flawless in those matches either, as it committed 14 and 15 service errors.
Cook said he was stumped about why errors were up this season.
“I don’t know if it’s the curse of Devaney. It’s unreal. I mean, it’s mind-boggling,” Cook said. “One theory is we start off missing serves. So then the other team starts missing and then it just goes from there.”
NU is averaging 2.84 errors per set this season and has reached double-digits in seven of the 11 matches. In the past three seasons, the Huskers averaged 1.99, 1.98 and 2.0 miscues from the service line and reached double figures in just 11 of the 86 matches, and never more than five per season.
While the servers are struggling, Cook said he was encouraged by the serve receive. The Huskers only allowed one ace in the eight sets against Michigan State and Ohio State.
The Huskers have a lot of the same servers back from last year – Kenzie Knuckles, Lexi Rodriguez, Madi Kubik and Hames. Sophomore setter Kennedi Orr has stepped in for Hames and cut down on miscues that plagued her during the first weekend.
Whitney Lauenstein has replaced Anni Evans in the last few weeks and found success and is tied for the team lead with seven aces. Freshman middle blocker Bekka Allick has also been errant at times but began to work with Cook last week to fix mechanical issues to improve consistency.
With all the errors, Cook said at times he tells his servers to back off on the aggressive serving.
“Sometimes you just have to get it over the net,” he said. “Get it in there and let us play defense.”