LINCOLN — While the Nebraska volleyball team didn’t exactly emerge unscathed from a rocky stretch that featured three road trips and six out of seven opponents being ranked in the top 25, the Huskers did enough to draw the praise of coach John Cook on Monday.
Nebraska went 5-2 during that period, with five of the seven matches coming away from the Devaney Center.
“I’ve gotta be pretty pleased with that effort over the last four weeks,” Cook said. “We were in a lot of tough matches and played some really good volleyball.”
The Huskers’ defeats in the past four weekends came on the road to top-10 opponents — a five-set loss at No. 3 Texas on Sept. 22 and Saturday at No. 5 Michigan State, which beat Nebraska 3-1 in East Lansing for the Spartans’ 15th win in a row.
Despite the loss Saturday to the Big Ten leaders, Nebraska (12-3, 5-1 Big Ten) moved up one spot to No. 8 in this week’s AVCA coaches poll.
Playing away from home on two of the first three weekends of conference play wasn’t ideal for a Nebraska team with 10 players who had never before been through a Big Ten schedule, but it may have ended up being a blessing.
The challenging start forced the young Huskers to grow up quickly. Despite playing just two Big Ten matches at home, Nebraska is tied for second in the league with Penn State, a game behind Michigan State.
“With this group, I’ve had to spend so much time just on us, managing us, that I haven’t even thought about that stuff like how does our schedule play out,” Cook said. “Until somebody told me Saturday night, I didn’t realize even that we’ve been on the road three of the last four weekends.”
Last weekend’s trip to Michigan and Michigan State could prove to be Nebraska’s toughest weekend of the season. After this weekend’s home matches with Indiana and No. 25 Purdue, the Huskers won’t play on back-to-back nights again until the Michigan schools return to Lincoln in mid-November. Nebraska will play on the road on consecutive nights just one more time this season, traveling to Indiana and Purdue on Nov. 22 and 23.
The next three weeks seem to set up more favorably for the Huskers. Five of the next six matches are at the Devaney Center, including contests against the bottom three teams in the Big Ten.
But as Cook has tried to hammer home all season long, there’s no such thing as a gimme in the Big Ten. Even with Friday’s opponent, Indiana, having lost eight straight matches, including its first six in conference play.
“The thing we can’t focus on is what ranking somebody has in our conference standings because if you look at Indiana, they’ve been in a lot of five-game matches with teams,” Cook said. “Northwestern just went in and beat Purdue. Everybody thought, well, Northwestern is at the bottom of the conference. You cannot have a night off in this conference, so that will be what I will be talking to this team about all week.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing Penn State, Michigan State or Indiana, you’ve got to show up and play because everybody is good in this league, and anybody can win on any given night.”
Amber Rolfzen held out Saturday with injury
Cook said Monday that freshman opposite hitter Amber Rolfzen was held out of Saturday’s match at Michigan State for injury reasons. Though the coach did not elaborate, Nebraska’s radio broadcasters commented during the match Saturday that Rolfzen suffered a slight hamstring injury.
“She was a little banged up, so I decided not to play her,” Cook said.
Cook said he hoped the Papillion-La Vista South product would be ready to play this weekend.
Rolfzen’s absence allowed senior captain Morgan Broekhuis to start her first match this season after being a regular starter the past two years.
Broekhuis finished with five kills and four errors, hitting .045. She added three blocks, but also was whistled for three net violations.
“She had a great opportunity to step up and show what she could do, and we could’ve really used some more kills from her,” Cook said. “I think she probably is going to feel like she’s got to continue to get better and come in and prove it more in practice so she can help this team.”
Cook receives second red card of career
The red card Cook received Saturday night against Michigan State was the second of the coach’s career, but apparently showed lightning can strike twice in college volleyball.
The coach said the same official gave him his only other previous red card in a 2007 match at Texas A&M.
“Let’s get Sports Illustrated in here and do an exposť on that,” Cook said.
Cook earned the red card after protesting Nebraska setter Mary Pollmiller being whistled for a ball-handling error early in the second set against the Spartans. The red card gave Michigan State a point to tie the set at 7, and the Spartans would eventually win the set 26-24 to take a 2-0 lead. Cook did not receive a yellow card warning prior to the red.
The official box score for the 2007 match at Texas A&M lists Richard Bleau and Steve Robb as the referees, while referees Stacey Weitzel and Michael Blalock worked Saturday’s match at Michigan State.
Line officials are not listed in the box score.