By Lincoln Arneal
When comparing this year’s Nebraska volleyball team to some of the program’s all-time greats, the current Huskers measure up favorably in hitting, blocking and passing.
The one exception, however, is serving. The third-ranked Huskers have just 27 aces this season compared to 83 service errors.
“It’s tragic,” NU coach John Cook said.
Freshman Bekka Allick and sophomore Kennedi Orr have struggled to serve in their first full-time roles. Senior Kenzie Knuckles and sophomore Lexi Rodriguez have struggled, too. Those two have 16 and 15 errors, respectively.
Senior Madi Kubik, one of the weaker servers in past seasons, has graded out as the Huskers’ best this year.
All hope is not lost. Cook said NU should get a boost when senior Nicklin Hames returns from her injury. Plus, they will figure out how to balance aggression and passive serving.
“We weren’t very good at this time last year. When we got to the Big Ten (schedule) last year, we started to become a great serving team.”
The difference serving can make was demonstrated last week. Against Stanford, Allick missed a serve with the first set tied at 25-all. The Cardinal won the set on the next point.
In the exact same scenario at Kentucky, Allick got her serve in twice, and Nebraska won the set and swept the Wildcats.
Allick said she is focusing on taking her time while serving. Before, she felt rushed. Assistant coach Jaylen Reyes gave her permission to use all eight seconds.
“If we get violated for that, then we’ll just work backward from there,” Allick said.
Cook said Allick’s serves usually resulted in an ace or error. To improve her consistency, he’s worked on technical changes, such as keeping her elbow high and taking a little off her serve.
“It’s kind of hit or miss. We’re trying to get it to be hit, hit, hit, hit,” Cook said. “If you’re playing golf, you’re not going to hit the driver as hard as you can every time. You got to sometimes just put it down the fairway. She’s got to put it down the fairway.”
LARSON HEADS TO MIDLAND — Midland University announced Jordan Larson as a volunteer coach Monday. She briefly served as a volunteer assistant coach at Texas this summer before leaving the program.
She joined the Warriors, the top-ranked team in NAIA, with a 9-1 record. Larson’s first session came the day after their only loss against Hastings. Midland coach Paul Giesselmann said having her in the gym instantly changed the players’ mindset.
“We didn’t tell the team ahead of time, and when she walked into the gym, it was instantly quiet,” he said. “You could see the ‘wow’ factor she brings.”
She will work with the Warriors one day a week before returning overseas. Larson hopes to help in whatever way she can.
“When you look at the state of Nebraska, it’s unreal all the great volleyball programs we have,” Larson said in a release. “It’s a reflection on the standards we’ve set and how everyone involved wants their programs to be successful. It’s encouraging and fun to be a part of.”
Cook said he is excited to have the NU All-American back in the state and start her coaching career. He said Larson is ready to get into the coaching world.
“She told me her dream is to eventually live in Nebraska and coach in Nebraska so she’s starting to plant the roots for that,” he said.
Could that happen for the Huskers eventually?
“I could see her someday coaching here, most definitely,” Cook said.
NO FOOTBALL FOR COOK — Following the Huskers’ sweep against Kentucky, Cook was being interviewed by the ESPN announcers, and they were talking about NU’s defensive prowess.
He recalled his love for defense started when he coached football at Francis Parker high school.
“In San Diego, I was a defensive coordinator for football. I’m a defensive-minded coach,” Cook said. “If anybody wants to hire me to coach football, we’re gonna start with defense.”
Unbeknownst to Cook, news that Nebraska defensive coordinator Erik Chindader was fired was released just as the volleyball match started.
He clarified that he didn’t know about the opening at the time and has no interest in switching to coaching the Huskers on the gridiron.
“I feel bad for these football coaches,” Cook said Tuesday. “It’s a tough, tough business. I had no idea what was going on. Some people assumed I was lobbying to be the defensive coordinator. I’m not. But I want our team to play good defense.”