LINCOLN — For the Nebraska volleyball team, it’s already tournament time.
Despite being four weeks away from the start of the NCAA tournament, Nebraska coach John Cook said Monday that he plans to prepare his team for the remaining six games of the regular season as if they were another tournament to win the Big Ten championship.
“We are looking at two seasons here,” Cook said. “Six matches left in the Big Ten trying to work to win the Big Ten, and hopefully we’ll get a shot to do that same thing in the NCAA tournament.”
Following Wisconsin’s loss to Ohio State on Friday, each of the top four teams controls its destiny down the stretch.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are tied for the top spot with one conference loss apiece but will break that tie when they play Thursday night. Two-loss Nebraska will face both of those teams next weekend on the road. Penn State, which also has two losses, will host the Badgers and Gophers to close the regular season.
Michigan, which has four losses, plays at Minnesota but needs help to get back in the race.
“It’s an exciting time and a lot of big matches are happening,” Cook said. “That’s what you want at the end of the Big Ten, for that to shake out. If you can win a championship, it really means something and it’s hard to do.”
Outside hitter Lexi Sun finished with another impressive performance Saturday against Iowa as she had 14 kills on a .444 hitting percentage.
The 6-foot-2 junior has notched double-digit kills in every Big Ten match and is fourth in the league with 3.63 kills per set in conference play. She also is hitting .309 in conference matches and has finished with a hitting percentage higher than .400 in three of the past four matches.
Against Iowa, Cook said, Sun stayed one step ahead of the Hawkeyes’ defense changing her shots and finding the floor.
“When you get in the zone, you can see the court, everything slows down and you can see where everybody is, get there and do want you want,” Cook said.
Last year, Sun averaged 3.11 kills per set and hit just .195. One of the biggest differences, Cook said, is her ability to grind in practice and overcome adversity.
“There are days when it is not going well and she will try to fight through and make it good and finish on a good note,” Cook said. “Last year, when she started off a bad practice it was going to be a bad day. She couldn’t pull herself out of it. It’s the same thing with matches. If she starts off slow or hits a rough patch, she will pull herself out.”
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Broken, but not out
Sophomore middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach chipped a bone in her thumb last week in practice but didn’t miss any action over the weekend.
Cook called the injury “very uncommon” after a ball caught Schwarzenbach’s thumb during a blocking drill to cause the break. She played with a taped-up hand during Saturday’s match against Iowa and recorded five kills and four blocks.
“I don’t think she would have said anything unless our trainer asked her” about the injury, Cook said. “She’s a tough girl.”
Huskers up one
Nebraska moved up one spot in this week’s AVCA poll to No. 6. Wisconsin lost at Ohio State in four sets and fell from No. 4 to No. 7. Minnesota also moved up one spot to No. 5, while Penn State remained eighth.
Texas remained atop the poll, while Creighton — which suffered its first Big East loss of the season — fell from five spots to No. 14.
Purdue dropped one spot, while Illinois fell four spots to No. 25. Two Husker opponents, Michigan and San Diego, reentered the poll at No. 23 and 24, respectively.