It’s obvious that a team is happier when it’s winning. When teams begin losing, it is commonly proposed by writers and commentators alike that the team chemistry is not all there and the players do not mix well.
Nebraska volleyball has been one of the nation’s premier volleyball programs over head coach John Cook’s tenure in Lincoln. Despite national championship winning teams and all the other team accolades, the Huskers still find new ways to surprise Cook.
“I’ve told the team several times this year that this is the tightest group and the best we’ve ever had as a whole overall part of our program,” Cook said.
The high praise of the 2019 Huskers from Cook all stems from a trip to Asia over the summer. The international trip was a first glimpse of the team’s play, but also a way for the Nebraska volleyball program to begin to become one unit instead of a mix of individuals.
The graduate managers and other staff who help behind the scenes played an integral part in that formation. They helped bridge the gap for everyone to become one group and their contributions were not left unnoticed by the players.
Cohesion is needed for a successful program, and for Nebraska, that came naturally. Practices for Nebraska are all highly competitive, yet the players are always lifting each other up. The intense practices bonded the players and it translated right into the game.
“We’re always hanging out with each other and we’re best friends,” junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said.
The friendships made are sometimes shown too well on the court.
Nebraska swept Northwestern in a match with little to note except for an unexpected end-of-game scenario. The Huskers gave up a 5-0 run and a timeout refocused the players, as the captains said they were acting “squirrely.”
Squirrely is one of thousands of words head coach John Cook could have used to describe how the team was playing. Northwestern’s run can be attributed to the Huskers playing on cruise control. However, there was no sign of frustration, but instead laughter.
From a surface level, the way Nebraska is playing and acting on the court signal that the team is hitting its stride. Nebraska has only lost three matches, the last coming at No. 15 Purdue in late October.
The Huskers are conference leaders in both offense and defense, despite a tumultuous last couple of weeks.
Two weeks ago, sophomore outside hitter Capri Davis took a medical leave from the team. It was a hit to the team’s depth as the Huskers were down an outside hitter right before an important road trip to Indiana.
The Friday match against Indiana saw sophomore setter Nicklin Hames play despite her being sick the entire week. Hames’ sickness wasn’t a problem as the Huskers cruised to a 3-1 win on Friday before losing to Purdue the next day.
After the match on Saturday, Nebraska headed home for a much-needed rest. Then, disaster struck the Huskers as graduate manager Dane LeClair passed away.
Even with the tragic news, the team pressed on. That week was an uphill battle as players grieved the loss, but the team held strong and was ready for two home matches.
“We really leaned on each and just talked about being with each other and for each other,” Hames said. “Going through this is going to make us a lot stronger.”
The hard week of practice ended with Nebraska sweeping Rutgers on Friday before playing No. 8 Penn State in another big match.
Nebraska beat Penn State in a five-set marathon despite the adversity from the week. Fresh off a win, there was more confidence than ever for Nebraska.
“This team is something special,” junior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins said. “I’m excited to see where we can take this.”