By Lincoln Arneal
The new routine for the Nebraska volleyball team is no routine.
During the last three weeks of the regular season, the top-ranked Huskers will play an erratic schedule that includes three straight home matches before closing with three on the road. It also features matches on four different days of the week. Then, throw in Thanksgiving before the final pair of games.
The journey begins Wednesday against Northwestern (11-13, 5-9) at the Devaney Center at 7 p.m.
“We’re not going to be in a routine now for the rest of the season,” NU coach John Cook said. “We just gotta adjust and adapt, but we got to try to stay in our (daily) routine as much as we can.”
The Huskers (23-0, 14-0) are coming off a long East Coast road trip with wins over Penn State and Rutgers. They got home on Sunday night, took Monday off, and only practiced on Tuesday before taking on the Wildcats.
Ally Batenhorst said they’ve worked with their strength coach and training staff to include a lot of recovery and balancing the intensity on the practice court.
The junior outside hitter said each player has sleep goals to get enough time to recover from matches and travel. She also said they continue to lift three times a week during the season to stay strong and deal with wear and tear. During this part of the season, the Huskers are trying to keep fresh to improve instead of worrying about getting extra reps.
“Our schedule is really crazy, so we’re preparing for that,” Batenhorst said. “We’re trying to trend upward because I think a lot of teams at this point in the season start to kind of decline. We’re trying not to do that.”
Fans Flock to the Huskers
The Huskers played in front of a school record 6,757 fans at Rutgers (more than 3.5 times the old mark) and a sellout crowd of 6,645 at Rec Hall against Penn State.
Cook couldn’t tell how many NU supporters were in the stands because the Scarlet Knights hosted a Red Out, but based on the sound from the starting lineup introductions, at least 40 percent of the fans were cheering for the Huskers.
“It’s amazing to me how many Nebraska fans are on the East Coast,” he said. “They bused in a lot of school kids, and those kids were all cheering for us. We could have probably signed autographs for over an hour.”
After a weekend of attracting large crowds on the road, Nebraska is averaging 4,970 fans for away matches this season.
That figure would rank fifth this season behind Nebraska at home, which averages 14,578 per match, including playing at Memorial Stadium; Wisconsin 7,216; Hawaii 6,057; and Minnesota 4,985.
“It’s so crazy to go to different states and have so many Nebraska fans, and we’re not even in Nebraska. We’re in New Jersey,” Batenhorst said. “It’s just so incredible and we’re just so grateful to have all the energy and it helps us.”
Wisconsin is averaging 6,268 fans on the road, boosted by a crowd of 17,037 at Marquette and 10,323 at Florida. Omaha, the road team in the stadium match, is averaging 10,080 for away matches this season with 100,797 total fans over 10 matches.
The Huskers don’t just attract a crowd at volleyball games either. Several members of the volleyball team attended the women’s basketball season opener on Monday, and hundreds of young people lined up to meet Lexi Rodriguez, Bergen Reilly, Ally Batenhorst and Kennedi Orr, have their picture taken and get autographs.
“Our players were all moved by the impact they’re having on kids, and how excited they are to see our players,” Cook said. “They are great role models.”
After the Huskers rallied against Penn State, BTN premiered a documentary about the growth of Nebraska volleyball. It traced the early days with Pat Sullivan and the legacy of Terry Pettit, the transition between Pettit and Cook before culminating with Volleyball Day in Nebraska.
Cook said he watched the show on Saturday night and called it unbelievable.
“It was very moving,” he said. “My phone blew up from people that have watched it that were emotionally impacted by that documentary. So it’s a very powerful documentary.”
The Big Show documentary is available on demand on B1G+ and is re-airing on BTN during the next week.
After standing on the sidelines for more than two and a half hours, Maisie Boesinger finally received her opportunity.
The sophomore defensive specialist was called up to serve in the fifth set against Penn State with the Huskers clinging to an 11-10 lead. Boesinger fired a bullet that Nittany Lion libero Gillian Grimes struggled to handle, which resulted in Bekka Allick hammering home a kill on an overpass.
Cook said they went with Boesinger because they weren’t running many points with Orr at the end line. The junior setter served 11 times against PSU and scored just three points in those rallies while committing three errors.
Boesinger’s last appearance came on Oct. 28 with the Huskers leading 21-7 in the third set and closing in on a sweep. Before that, the Norris graduate hadn’t appeared in a match for three weeks. However, Cook said she is always ready to jump when needed.
“Those were huge serves. She got them in trouble, so great job by Maisie,” Cook said. “She knows her role. She’s prepared for that, whether she sits an hour, 20 minutes, two hours, whatever. We work on that. It’s not just throwing her out there.”
More Awards for Beason, Reilly
Merritt Beason won her fourth Big Ten Player of the Week award of the season on Monday, the most of any league player. Sarah Franklin of Wisconsin and Jess Mruzik have each claimed the weekly honor twice this year.
NU’s junior opposite averaged six kills per set (48 total) while hitting .447 in wins at Penn State and Rutgers. She also added 14 digs, eight blocks and an ace.
Reilly was named the league’s setter of the week for the fourth time, which gave her one more than Indiana’s Camryn Haworth for the most in the conference.
The NU freshman averaged 11.9 assists and 3.13 digs per set against Penn State and Rutgers while helping the Huskers hit .287. She added a pair of kills and blocks.
To Cook, it is not a surprise that the pair continue to rack up Big Ten awards as they make each other better as their connection strengthens.
“Merritt knows when Bergen is going to set her and how she’s going to set her, and so as a hitter, that really frees you up,” he said. “In the system we’re running, Merritt literally hits from every zone. So you’ve got to have a tremendous amount of trust between the setter and that person.”