LINCOLN — The four-month volleyball schedule is both a marathon and a sprint as Nebraska plays matches every weekend during the 17-week season.
However, because of the uneven distribution of matches, the Huskers can have an unofficial bye week built into the schedule.
Last week was one of those stretches as NU (13-2, 5-1 Big Ten) practiced five straight days, which allowed the players to regroup and refocus following a three-set home loss to No. 6 Wisconsin on Oct. 5.
The fifth-ranked Huskers will complete another sprint Wednesday night at 8 against No. 20 Purdue in a match televised on ESPNU. The match will wrap up a four-match homestand and is NU’s third match in six days.
Purdue (11-4, 3-3) has lost all three of its matches against ranked Big Ten teams but owns wins against No. 16 Kentucky and No. 23 Louisville.
NU coach John Cook said the players responded well in practice as they came in with a sense of urgency and trained hard after the Wisconsin match.
“That’s always a positive sign for a coach, when your team gets humiliated pretty much and they come back with a great effort,” he said. “I don’t think they feel great about how they played against Wisconsin and they took ownership of it.”
Cook said the back-to-back matches against Illinois and Northwestern followed by a midweek cross-country trip to Rutgers drained the players before facing Wisconsin. Once they recovered for a few days, NU played sharp and executed the game plan.
The initial results were positive against Michigan State and Michigan last weekend. The Huskers imposed their will with their defense, limiting the teams to .038 and .019 hitting percentages, respectively.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said defensive drills are one of the most important parts of practice, which is ingrained in players from their first day in the program.
“It’s the culture of Nebraska volleyball,” said Sun, who recorded eight blocks and 20 digs last weekend. “The belief and determination to hold ourselves to a high standard and get those touches, be on assignment and be aggressive on defense, are super big.”
Freshman libero Kenzie Knuckles leads NU with 3.9 digs per set. She said playing defense at a high level is a teamwide effort. She said the Huskers have players who get upset when they don’t get a touch on the ball or miss a dig.
So far, NU has succeeded as it leads the Big Ten and is fifth in the nation allowing opponents to hit just .139.
“The best part of playing defense for this team is the grit that everyone has,” Knuckles said. “No one really wants to let the ball drop. I think about defense in general, it’s all about being tenacious, having a lot of grit and wanting it.”