All year round, former Husker and NFL veteran Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In the "Carriker Chronicles" video series, he breaks down the latest NU news, upcoming opponents, player updates and recruiting information, and he offers his insight into the X's and O's and more.
On Thursday's episode, Adam Carriker talks to Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook about the team's upcoming Final Four match, his friendship with Scott Frost and much more.
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Here's a transcript of today's show:
Welcome to the Carriker Chronicles, the People’s show where every day we’re checking the pulse of Husker Nation brought to you by Nebraska Spine Hospital. Today I’m joined by a man—he’s a hall of famer, he’s a national championship coach many times over. If I went through all of his accolades we’d never get to the interview, so we’ll bypass all of that. We’re joined today by Nebraska Head Volleyball Coach Mr. John Cook. How ya doing my friend?
John Cook: I’m doing good. Fired up for this week!
Adam Carriker: I think everyone is fired up for this week! You’re going to your fourth straight final four, and after your recent sweet sixteen win, your elite 8 win over Oregon, you got a little bit emotional talking to the team after the game. So talk to me, what’s so special about this senior class, what got you emotional and how they were able to achieve four consecutive final four trips?
John Cook: Well the heart of this senior class is really Kenzie Maloney and Mikaela Foecke. When I was in that locker room looking at Kenzie, we recruited her really hard. She’s the oldest of four girls and she left Louisville to come to Nebraska and I was worried if she would even make it. Just leaving her family and leaving her three little sisters behind. So those two have accomplished more than any other seniors in Nebraska volleyball history. But what makes this season so unique is that 8 of our 15 players are new, and those two being captains—I just put them into captains—I didn’t even ask. They’ve done an amazing job of pulling this team together and when I was looking at Kenzie, all those emotions ran through me, and the great job she’s done, and Mikaela has been with her. It was very emotional, very rewarding, and of course their sidekick Brooke Smith who was here, then she left, and came back. She’s really their rock they lean on behind the scenes. It just hit all right there because I’m not sure anybody thought we were going to get to the final four. I never talked to anyone who said “Hey, you think you can get to the final four? We think you can compete for a national championship!” I don’t think anybody was even thinking that all season long.
Adam Carriker: I came to one of your spring practices last spring, I brought my three oldest kids, brought my wife, and at the end of practice I talked to you. I believe at the time you didn’t have a setter on the team—they were going to be joining the team a little bit later on. I remember asking you, what are you going to do? You kinda looked at me almost like it was kind of a ridiculous question and it was funny was what I got from that was you know what’s going to happen, you know what’s going on. Talk to me what it’s like going into a season, where you kinda know, where there’s these question marks, these new faces at key positions. Yet you didn’t seem very concerned at all. Or at least that’s how it projected to me. Talk to me about that mindset that you have.
John Cook: I may start acting if I can fool you that much! You have to be confident in the kids that you have coming in. Believe me, there was a lot of uncertainity! But we recruited Nicklin Hames who is a very similar path to football this year. You know, Adrian (Martinez) was the first freshman quarterback to ever start, and Nicklin was the first freshman setter to ever start for Nebraska volleyball. So uncharted waters for her and for us but we recruited her thinking she had what it took to replace Kelly Hunter so that’s one of the reasons we recruited her. We knew whoever we recruited in that spot was probably going to have to be a starter and at the time I didn’t know if our other setter was going to get through her stuff with the NCAA, and we didn’t know Brooke was coming back. So there was a lot of things up in the air, but you still have to have confidence, believe and have a plan and keep working at it.
Adam Carriker: Well you certainly didn’t have an easy schedule this year. You played two top 5 teams, you played 9 teams ranked in the top ten when you played them, 15 teams in the top 20, and 16 ranked teams overall. What was it like facing a brutal schedule like that?
John Cook: I’ve never been through a schedule we’ve been through this year. It was very challenging. The key was because we had such a young team, and we had to hear that we lost three matches for like the first time in like a century or whatever. We just kept this great perspective like okay, we’re going to keep working at this, we’re close, these answers are going to make us better and tougher. And they certainly did. I think we’re the most improved team in the country because we went through that schedule. Now, it didn’t get us 30 wins and a Big Ten championship but it certainly builds a lot of resiliency and it taught our young players the mindset they needed to play at. A player like Kenzie knows all of this and Jazz and Lauren Stivrins and Densberger are the kids who were on that team last year that won the national championship. But there were 8 new players who didn’t have a clue. Even Lexi Sun who played at Texas, she was blown away by the level of competition in the Big Ten coming from the Big 12. It rocked her for a while, then she started pulling out of it but she was blown away by how good the teams are.
Adam Carriker: Obviously you still have more goals in the future but at the current moment in time you can look back on some of these things, like you lost three matches in a row, four out of 5, 5 out of 7 at one point. You can look back at those moments right now almost with a smile on your face cause at this moment in time you’re in the final four, you haven’t lost a set yet in the NCAA tournament and one of the reasons for that is your defense. Your defense has been spectacular. Your defense has held either 13 or 14 of your opponents to a season low. Talk to me about what makes your defense so good this year?
John Cook: That’s a great question, I really don’t know! I’m actually shocked by that, being how we have a freshman middle, a freshman playing in the back row, we have a freshman setter. This team has a mindset, it’s an attitude, it’s a passion for playing defense and it’s about effort, and emotion, and trying to will points. This team just has that mental make up. We train it, and we emphasize it, but they really believe and buy into it. They play really hard and I think a lot of that stems from Kenzie Maloney. You just watch her play, watch her fly around, she’s #1 on our index testing for Husker Power. She was the lifter of the year. So that’s who’s leading the charge. Adam, you played on teams that have a great leader who sets the tone. It means a lot. They take people with them.
Adam Carriker: You and Scott Frost seem to be buds, what is your relationship with Coach Frost?
John Cook: Well as my team likes to say, we’re bffs. I had to ask Scott if he knew what that meant, he said yeah, he’s not 70 years old yet. Made me feel old, but Scott and I spent a lot of time together when he was doing the pro thing, and he’d come back to Lincoln to train and play basketball and stuff. We just got to be friends, and I used to do some stuff in the summer with his dad. Then he had a grandmother that lived in the north side of Lincoln, and I got her tickets and things like that. So we just build a relationship over the years. I stayed in touch with him when he went into coaching. I remember when he first told me he was going to go to Northern Iowa and start coaching, and then he went to Oregon, and I started following and stayed in touch with him there. He invited me to come out and watch practice, we could just never work the dates but I stayed in touch with him through all that, then when he would come back to Lincoln we would get together, play golf and whatever. Once he got to Central Florida, it was much more difficult just because of his schedule and being the head coach but he came back and we hooked up right away. He came over for dinner one night, and we happened to have some recruits there at the time, and it just, I don’t know, two Nebraska guys trying to be great and he’s a great guy. Loves volleyball. He really knows volleyball, it’s amazing when he talks to our team about the things he observes. It’s really cool. He’s a coach and we just kinda hit it off. It’s just fun. I love football and spend every second on the sideline on the games and try to go to practice once a week. I was a former football coach, and I love it, love being around those guys and talking shop with them.
Adam Carriker: That’s really cool. And people have seen some of the clips of Frost talking to the volleyball team here the past couple weeks. He talked about having a drive to succeed, having no fear of failure. What were the girls’ reaction after hearing from Coach Frost?
John Cook: Well we had a couple say they didn’t hear a thing! It may have been girls just getting fired up cause the head football coach was talking to them. We make a psych up video every week, I think you guys used to have the hit videos, I don’t know if they still do that but we have a psych up video and each video of each week we cut in parts of his talk and his message to the team. So we’ve stayed with it. So that’s how powerful and impactful his words were to our team.
Adam Carriker: Very cool. Now do you see any similarities in where the volleyball team is now and where it once was, and the football program is now and where Scott Frost wants to take them?
John Cook: I know where he wants to take it and he’s heading in the right direction. It may not be the results that they wanted (right away), but you can see the culture changing. Culture—you’re fighting for it every day, and it’s delicate. It’s very easy to lose and I think the big similarities are both programs are working to appreciate what culture is all about. Molding and protecting it, all those things you know. It’s part of the core of who we are and what we do. I see a lot of similarities between volleyball and football in that regard.
Adam Carriker: Now what are your thoughts going into this year’s final four matchup? You’ve got Illinois you’re going to be facing. On the other side of the bracket you’ve got Stanford and BYU. I remember last year when I talked to you, you said two things that I found entertaining and bold. #1 you said we’re the least talented team going into this year’s final four, but you followed it up by saying we’re the best team. I thought both of those were confident bold awesome statements. I found them very entertaining. So I’m curious what your thoughts are going into this year’s final four, your match up with Illinois and all the teams involved.
John Cook: We split with Illinois. We beat them at their place, they beat us at our place, so it has the build up to be a great match. They have a veteran team, we have a very young team. Statistically, this year’s team is at a higher level in several categories over last year's team. I think it’s going to be a great match and I think our team is excited to play Illinois. I think our team kinda let them beat us at our place and there’s some unfinished business there we gotta take care of. Stanford-BYU is an interesting match in that I think Stanford has all the pressure on them because they have the most talent. BYU I think is a great Cinderella story and kinda new to the final four. I mean, we just saw what happened to Minnesota. When you feel the pressure sometimes, it can get you. So I think that’s going to be a real interesting match as well. BYU is a very talented, very experienced. They have a great outside hitter. But I think Stanford is the #1 seed and favored to win it. I think it’s going to be a very interesting final four. I think any one of the four teams can win it and I like if our players keep listening to what Scott said about playing with no fear and getting after it, looking forward to making the big plays, that’s what they embrace. They’re playing at a really high level.
Adam Carriker: Alright, one last question. Do you have any behind the scenes stories the fine folks at home might find interesting?
John Cook: I think if you’ve followed us on social media, our team has this coordinated dances they do. Capri Davis on our team is a big dancer, she’s taught everybody how to dance, so they dance all the time. They do it as a stress reliever, as a warm up, as a “Hey, we’re just here to be together right now.” So I think that’s one of the cool behind the scenes things that’s happened that people may not be aware of. This is a very close knit team. Kenzie Maloney made a statement the other day “Of all the teams she’s played on at Nebraska, this being her fourth, this is the team that she has loved the most and she’s had the most fun being a part of.” I think that’s a pretty powerful statement cause we’ve had some good teams the last three years—two of them have been national champions. So that’s a pretty powerful statement coming from a senior captain.
Adam Carriker: That’s awesome. I want to thank you for joining me, and for everyone at home, my next show will be after the volleyball team’s final game, whenever that may be. Whether it’s after they beat Illinois, or after they lose, I’ll do a gut reaction then or after the National Title game. So look for that gut reaction. And until next time Husker nation, GO BIG RED and always remember…
John Cook: THROW THE BONES!
Adam Carriker: I appreciate it coach, and good luck!
John Cook: Thanks, and say hi to your girls!
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