Cook Still Weighing Options in Starting Lineup

By Lincoln Arneal

Following a closed practice, Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook didn’t let any secrets out about what the starting lineup will be for the Huskers’ opening match on Friday.

Less than 48 hours before the first serve of the season, he said he was still working through options. 

“I don’t know yet,” Cook said on Wednesday. “We will probably play a couple of lineups this weekend.”

Part of the reason for his uncertainty is the competition level in training and everyone’s willingness to push each other. Cook said several players left practice unhappy because they lost a scrimmage. 

However, they are ready to face outside competition. When asked about her feelings about getting to face outside competition, junior outside hitter Ally Batenhorst’s face lit up. 

“I’m so excited,” she said. “We haven’t really played that many people. It’s just been (teams on the) Brazil (trip) that we played, but we’re excited to play another team because we’re a really competitive group.”

That level of intensity was on display during Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage. Three of the four sets were decided by two points and the other one was won by the losing team. The two teams finished with the same amount of points over the four sets. 

Freshman opposite Caroline Jurevicius said she gained valuable experience in her first competition in the Devaney Center. Even though she’s watched matches in the arena on television, the energy in the air still caught her off guard. After overcoming early nerves, she was proud of how her team rallied from a 19-6 deficit in the fourth set to earn a set point. 

Jurevicius said she enjoys the competition in the gym as they near their first match of the year. 

“It’s just a challenge of who’s going to make each other better and who’s going to be on top,” she said. “Pressure builds diamonds and I think that was a really, really good experience for the whole team.”

Some of the position battles might be finalized this weekend, but others continue to be sorted out. Batenhorst said even for the players that don’t begin the game on the court, they still have a chance to prove themselves. 

“They’ve played in club, in high school, and they know exactly what volleyball’s like. It’s a competitive world,” she said. “Everyone’s focusing on themselves and just doing the absolute best that they can and growing their game and fighting for their spot and it’s up for grabs.”

Cook said he’s training all four outside hitters to be six-rotation players. However, the challenge he faces is finding a way to get freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy on the court. He called Choboy and junior libero Lexi Rodriguez “elite” and wanted them on the court as much as possible. 

The scrimmage showed the Huskers have plenty of depth, but Cook said he might let players work through struggles rather than automatically pull them. He said it would be a game-time decision and would depend on if they are competing, talking, bringing energy and if they go in the I-Club – thinking internally instead of for their teammates. 

“If they go there, they are out,” Cook said. 

Goodbye Doubleheaders

Work productivity should increase for NU volleyball fans on Friday. They won’t need to leave their jobs early to spend the afternoon with the Huskers at the Devaney Center. 

After an NCAA rule change, the Huskers will not play two matches during the same day for the first time during a normal season since 2011. NU opens with Utah State on Friday and will play Lipscomb Saturday before closing with SMU on Sunday. 

Previously the NCAA allowed teams 28 match days during a regular season schedule. To squeeze more matches in and cut down on travel expenses, teams would often double up. After the change, teams are now allowed to play 32 contests. 

NU has 29 scheduled regular-season matches this year, all on different days. Cook said they are compensating teams more to help cover the additional travel costs of staying in Lincoln an additional day. 

Cook said he likes the change because no one has to play consecutive matches. 

“It’s not fair to those teams or those athletes,” Cook said. “We’re trying to make it where we can get three great matches. Everybody has the same chance to recover, rest and prepare and nobody has an advantage just because of what time they’re playing.”

Carter Out

When asked about NU president Ted Carter leaving Nebraska for Ohio State, Cook took a second to collect his thoughts. He said the university was losing two good leaders between Carter and UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green, who retired at the end of June. 

He called Carter a “cool dude,” as a former Navy fighter pilot, Top Gun instructor and fellow San Diego resident. However, Cook doesn’t like it when people leave to go to schools in the same league. 

“I don’t like it when teams, players, whoever, leave Nebraska and go to another Big Ten school,” he said. “That’s the competitive part of it.”

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