By Lincoln Arneal
Next Step for No. 2 Huskers: Big Ten Play
Cook: ‘We Got to Get off to a Good Start This Week’
By Lincoln Arneal
When John Cook looked at the Big Ten standings this week, all that registered was that his team was 0-0.
It mattered little to the Nebraska coach that his team had navigated the nonconference schedule undefeated for the first time since 2016. He’s wiped the slate clean and is focused on the task ahead.
The Huskers start Big Ten play on Friday, hosting Ohio State at the Devaney Center.
“We have three seasons: nonconference, Big Ten and the postseason,” Cook said. “We got to get off to a good start this week.”
The schedule also gives NU a chance to return to the gym. It does not have a mid-week match for the first time since the season began. The trip to Stanford last week also took a lot out of the players since they didn’t return to campus until 4 a.m. the next day.
Cook said the break allows for more intense practices and an opportunity to focus on themselves. With matches every couple of days, the Huskers have spent a lot of time on scouting reports and the next opponent.
“I feel like we haven’t really hardly trained at all the last couple of weeks,” he said. “These midweek matches really, really messed you up. You’re just trying to maintain and survive and now I’ve been spending all day just working on us.”
Cook said one of the biggest challenges will be playing matches on consecutive nights, which it has only done the first weekend of the season. Next weekend, the Huskers play at Indiana the day after facing Purdue. Then, the following weekend, NU makes a road trip through Michigan and Michigan State on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The other big difference will be the environment in which they play. While the competition was tough against Stanford, Cook compared it to playing at a country club because of the lack of intensity from the crowd.
The Huskers played in front of a loud, sold-out arena at Kansas State, which Cook said will be similar to what they face during league play. However, he said some players enjoy the challenge. Junior Merritt Beason said she likes to try to silence a hostile crowd on the road.
“It’s the challenge of the travel and playing back-to-back some weekends,” Cook said. “It’s a 10-week grind. I keep saying, I think it’s harder to win a Big Ten championship than a national championship because you got to grind over 10 weeks.”
Back in Action
Cook said he expected freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy to return to practice on Tuesday. He hoped junior outside hitter Lindsay Krause would also return but was less sure about her availability.
Neither played in Sunday’s match against Kentucky. Choboy was recovering from an on-court collision during the Stanford match last Tuesday.
Krause was involved in a hit-and-run car accident on Wednesday when her car was rear-ended while driving on O Street in Lincoln. She suffered an injury to her left, non-hitting shoulder and tried to go through drills on Sunday but only lasted 10 minutes.
Cook said he has communicated with the Lincoln Police Department about the reckless driving on the main thoroughfare in Lincoln. He thanked them for their efforts and said they told him they were working on it.
Cook said he can usually tell how his team is doing by how fans interact with him when he goes shopping at Hy-Vee on 50th and O streets. When he went shopping on Monday, he said fans were still buzzing about Volleyball Day in Nebraska and their most recent wins.
“I know how people feel about Nebraska volleyball just walking through that Hy-Vee because they tell me everything,” Cook said. “I almost feel like it’s a therapy session going in there – for them and for me. I can’t go 10 feet without somebody talking about Nebraska volleyball.”
The Huskers moved up to No. 2 in this week’s AVCA poll with two first-place votes. Wisconsin remains atop the poll with the remaining 62 first-place votes. Wisconsin and Nebraska are followed by Stanford, Florida and Louisville.
The Big Ten has four other ranked teams, but they all dropped this week. Minnesota fell three spots to No. 12, and Penn State is down two to No. 15. Purdue and Ohio State slid down a pair of notches to Nos. 19 and 21, respectively.
During one of the last days of nonconference action, a lot of people watched volleyball both on television and in person.
Nebraska played during the new time slot of 6:30 p.m. on Sunday and drew 180,000 viewers on BTN against No. 21 Kentucky. Earlier in the day, No. 1 Wisconsin defeated No. 3 Florida with 192,000 watching, while 123,000 viewers tuned in for No. 5 Stanford’s five-set win over No. 2 Louisville.
While going up against NFL Sunday, both paled compared to earlier matches on ESPN that did not have to compete against pro football. Nebraska-Stanford had 466,000 viewers on Tuesday, and Louisville-Kentucky drew 318,000.
Those audiences were the largest for regular-season matches on ESPN networks.
TV numbers weren’t the only significant figures put up last week. Arenas across the country were packed as well.
Marquette hosted Wisconsin on Wednesday and drew 17,037, which would have been the regular season record crowd if not for NU’s Memorial Stadium match.
Louisville hosted crowds of 12,760 and 9,761 last week, with the former setting a school record. Florida hosted a program-best 10,323 fans against the Badgers, while BYU broke its old home attendance mark with 5,528 fans.
Nebraska earned a pair of conference awards from the Big Ten on Monday.
Merritt Beason was named the league’s player of the week. The junior opposite averaged four kills per set on a .354 hitting percentage. She added 15 digs and three blocks in wins over No. 5 Stanford and No. 21 Kentucky.
Harper Murray won her second conference freshman of the week honor. She recorded 29 kills on a .349 hitting percentage. The 6-foot-2 outside hitter added 16 digs, seven blocks and three aces.