Cook thinks hitting the road will be good for Husker
LINCOLN — Nebraska coach John Cook saw good things from his team this weekend in four-set wins over Michigan and Michigan State.
“I thought we played some good volleyball this weekend,” Cook said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We still have to be more consistent. What I’m most pleased about is that I see our team working on things that we’re working on and I see them trying to implement it in the matches. That’s a really good sign. It’s going to pay off for us down the road.”
And that road starts now. The third-rated Huskers did play a match in Omaha against Creighton earlier this month, but their first true road trip comes this weekend.
Nebraska (11-1, 2-0 Big Ten), which has won 11 straight matches since a season-opening defeat against Florida, plays at Northwestern (10-4, 0-2) Friday and at No. 7 Illinois (13-0, 2-0) Saturday.
“It will be interesting,” Cook said. “Going to Northwestern we have to play in a high school gym, so that will be different. Of course Illinois will have a big crowd. That will be fun.”
It may not be easy playing on the road, but Cook said there are some advantages for the Huskers. There may be more pressure on the Nebraska players in the Devaney Center than what they see on the road.
Like on Sunday when the Huskers won the second set 25-9 over Michigan State, but the Spartans came back to win the third.
“You beat a team 25-9 and the next game you’re not crushing them and they start getting tense and the crowd gets tense,” Cook said. “I think they feel a little bit of that, and on the road it’s just us. I think it will be really good for us to go on the road where it’s just us. We haven’t had that bunker mentality, fighting for each other. I think it’s going to be really good.”
This week the Huskers will try to find a consistent rhythm that they haven’t had yet this season. That comes along with getting the middle attack going and improving on out-of-system attacks.
But to do that, the passing needs to improve.
“The main thing is to be in a consistent rhythm, and we’re not passing the ball well enough,” Cook said. “We had a great rhythm last year. We’re still sputtering on that a little bit.”
Cook said the highlight of this past weekend might have been when an official had to warn freshman setter Nicklin Hames after she was talking to Michigan State players through the net.
“We don’t encourage that, but it’s a good sign,” he said. “I’d rather have that than not getting fired up. It’s a sign that she’s taken ownership of this team and is competing. That’s what you want to see out of a freshman — ownership and competing.”
This episode from Hames, who was named the Big Ten’s co-freshman of the week with Minnesota’s Adanna Rollins, didn’t surprise Cook. He’s seen it before from her.
“I’ve seen several examples of her encouraging her teammates to get after it,” Cook said with a chuckle. “Some of it I can’t repeat here.”
Cook told the story about how last year in the Tennessee high school state championship match, Hames set her sister for a back-row attack on championship point while shouting, “Hit it!”
It was the fifth state championship for Hames, who also played for her Webb School team in Knoxville as an eighth grader.
“She hates to lose,” Cook said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to recruit her. She took average talent (around her) and got those kids to play hard. She won five state championships.”
Senior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke has won a couple of titles as well. Foecke was MVP of the NCAA final four her freshman season in 2015 and last year when the Huskers won national titles.
Foecke hit .391 with 21 kills, six blocks and nine digs Friday in the win over Michigan. She followed that up by hitting. .417 with 12 kills, eight digs and three blocks against Michigan State. She was named the Big Ten’s co-player of the week Monday along with Minnesota’s Stephanie Samedy.
For the season she is hitting .337 with a team-high 158 kills (3.67 per set).
“She’s killing balls and not making errors,” Cook said. “She’s doing a great job blocking. She’s been a real consistent passer for us. She went up 400 points in the performance index. She’s seeing the results of that on the court.
“She’s playing at a really high level as an all-around outside hitter.”