By Lincoln Arneal
Sunday was for celebrating. Monday, it was back to work.
After knocking off No. 1 Wisconsin on Saturday night, the Nebraska volleyball team took time to savor breaking a 10-match losing streak to the Badgers. However, the season didn’t end over the weekend, and the Huskers (19-0, 10-0 Big Ten) still have plenty of work to do.
Nebraska, which took over the No. 1 ranking this week, will host Maryland (14-8, 4-6) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Rutgers (9-11, 1-9) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“We can’t think that we won the national championship just because we won on Saturday,” freshman setter Bergen Reilly said. “We understand that was a big win, but we have (10) more games in the Big Ten. Then we still have to go to the tournament. We realized there’s a lot more season left that we have to work towards.”
NU coach John Cook said it didn’t take him long to calm down after the exciting victory. However, he didn’t get to enjoy his day off much. He was up by 6:30 a.m. to take his wife to the airport on Sunday morning.
“I try to get my eight hours asleep the best I can and go on to the next one,” he said.
Cook aimed to keep the team fresh by giving most of the regulars the day off on Monday in what he called a “mixed day.” The starters still had video review and recovery, but he didn’t want the reserves to go four days without getting on the court.
Freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy said when everyone was back in the gym on Tuesday, they talked about refocusing on the task at hand and continuing to take the season match-by-match.
“We have a bigger goal than just beating Wisconsin,” she said.
Cook said human nature is to take a step back after an emotional high, but his job is to ensure they are prepared for the challenges ahead. The Huskers should be aided by a similar experience from the beginning of the season after they played in front of a once-in-a-lifetime crowd of 92,003 fans at Memorial Stadium and then played a road match four days later.
The season has been a learning curve with so many new players contributing. He said playing Ohio State and Minnesota during the first week helped acclimate them, and then back-to-back road trips showed them the grind. Now, they have a good grasp of the fight it takes to be successful in the Big Ten.
Two-thirds of the way through the season, Cook said teams are either improving or falling apart.
“Nobody stays the same,” he said. “It’s a mental battle, and we’ve been talking about this since January.”
Cook said NU still has a lot of areas to improve upon in the second half of the league schedule but declined to go into specifics.
Against Wisconsin, the Huskers showed improvement in dealing with the Badgers block. Wisconsin recorded 18 stuffs, including 12 in the second set alone. Reilly called it one of the most challenging matches she’s played in, and she learned a lot about decision-making and dealing with a big block.
NU will face another stiff defensive challenge in Maryland, which is third in the Big Ten with 2.52 blocks per set. Anastasia Russ and Eva Rohrbach both average more than 1.1 blocks per set.
Against the Badgers, Reilly and the Huskers eventually adjusted by being more aggressive and attacking the block more. Reilly also recorded four kills against Wisconsin, which forces the defense to focus more on her and creates openings for her hitters.
“They’re big and they’re going to get their big blocks, but you can’t be scared of it,” Reilly said. “It’s just trusting our offense and trusting our training and knowing that whatever happens over there, if they get a block, we move on and we just keep going at it.”
Cook also issued a challenge to the Nebraska fans this week. After packing the Devaney Center with a record 9,198 fans, Cook said he wants the fans to continue to provide a home-court advantage.
“Let’s put out the challenge right now,” he said. “We have five home matches left. We want our crowd that energized and that student section energized for all five of those matches.”