LINCOLN — Every day as the Nebraska volleyball players walk off the court, they pause to say thanks. They thank the managers for helping with practice, they thank the volunteer coaches, athletic trainers, nutritionists and the strength coach as they head into the locker room.
The small acts are a sign of how close this year’s team is. How much they care for one another and the contributions of everyone involved with the program.
That close bond is crucial as the Huskers (16-3, 8-2) enter the second half of the Big Ten season and have to deal with what Nebraska coach John Cook called “interference” off the court.
“They’re very close and love being together,” Cook said. “They just do a great job. They are super low-maintenance. They are very tight. Our whole group is just a great group to be around. I have told them several times how much I appreciate them.”
The Huskers endured one of the toughest weeks this season as they dealt with sophomore Capri Davis taking an indefinite medical leave from the team. Also, Nicklin Hames missed all of last week’s practices with an illness and was a game-time decision before Friday’s match against Indiana.
Now the Huskers will be tested even more as they cope with the death of graduate manager Dane Leclair, who died accidentally early Sunday morning.
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Cook said the bonding started on the team’s trip to Asia but really kicked in during fall camp when all the parts were together. The players live together, hang out and make trips to the beach house of Kelly Hunter, a former player and current graduate manager.
The team unity was evident during the first set against Purdue on Saturday. The Huskers fell behind 21-12 and the Boilermakers were awarded another point on a contested touch call. Cook said he thought about saving one of his three challenges, but knew that went against the point-by-point mentality he preaches.
The call was overturned and started eight straight points and a 13-2 run to give the Huskers the first set. Cook called the rally one of the greatest comebacks he’s ever seen.
“You don’t make comebacks like that unless you have a pretty special group,” Cook said. “That’s a deep belief right there.”
Cook said unity and development will be crucial over the final month of the regular season. Even though the Huskers are at the top of the conference in several key statistical categories in league play. NU is No. 1 in the Big Ten in opponent hitting percentage, assists per set and kills per set and second in hitting percentage. Cook said he didn’t realize how well the Huskers’ numbers stacked up against their peers until assistant Kayla Banwarth put together the numbers for a recruiting package.
“You never think you’re playing that well and everyone else is playing great, but now I look at the comparisons and I’m pretty pumped up and I want to share with the team,” Cook said. “I still don’t think we’ve played that good. We’re good, but we haven’t played all that great.”
Davis not with team
Davis will not be around the rest of the team for the immediate future, Cook said. Cook announced last week that Davis was taking an indefinite medical leave of absence. She was at practice on Wednesday, but that won’t be the case going forward.
“She’s taking care of her business,” Cook said.
The sophomore outside hitter remains enrolled in classes at Nebraska.
Huskers tumble in polls
After losing to Purdue, Nebraska fell three spots to No. 8 in this week’s AVCA poll. In the RPI rankings, NU dropped two places to No. 7. Meanwhile, the Boilermakers jumped up four spots in the AVCA poll to No. 16.
Texas, which upset formerly undefeated Baylor, replaced the Bears on the top of the poll as five teams received first-place votes. Big Ten leader Wisconsin rose two spots to No. 4, one spot above Stanford, which suffered its fourth loss of the year.
Minnesota is No. 6 and is followed by the Huskers’ opponent on Saturday, Penn State. Illinois is the sixth ranked Big Ten team at No. 19. Creighton continued its rise and is No. 9, while UCLA, which upset Stanford and California, was ranked for the first time this year at No. 25.