LINCOLN — When the calendar flips to November, the wins start to mount for the Nebraska volleyball team.
In the previous three seasons, the Huskers amassed a 24-1 record during November. In those same seasons, they dropped seven matches in October. The only blemish in November came in a 2016 road loss to Minnesota during the last week of the regular season.
“We pride ourselves on being great in November,” coach John Cook said.
There are many reasons for the surge in November, but the difference is a sign that those teams, each of which qualified for the Final Four, peaked at the right time of the year.
This year’s Huskers started the month strong on Saturday with a win over No. 8 Penn State and look to continue the November dominance against Northwestern (10-14, 1-11 Big Ten) Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Devaney Center.
“I think this team is a lot stronger than we realized in the beginning of the season,” junior Lauren Stivrins said. “We are young, but we’ve gone through so much recently, and to go out there and play the way we did (against Penn State), I’m really proud of them.”
Cook said the benefit of playing in the Big Ten is always facing quality teams and finding ways to improve each week. For example, during a five-set loss to Purdue on Oct. 26, the Huskers didn’t respond well to the challenge. But against the Nittany Lions, NU was ready for the battle.
“Both teams pushed each other to a new level for each team this year,” Cook said about the Penn State match. “That’s what you get in the Big Ten and playing these matches. ... It pushes you to be really great if you want to be successful.”
Northwestern has also played better during the past two weeks, earning its first conference win of the year last weekend by sweeping Michigan State. Also, the Wildcats’ three losses in the past four matches all came in five sets.
By the time the season hits the third full month, the players have figured out their roles and the team’s identity.
Cook said this year’s Huskers have embraced the motto “with each other, for each other.” He said that manifests on the court by the players trusting one another, doing the little things like covering hitters, moving on to the next play quickly and not getting down when mistakes are made.
Junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said the difference in close matches is how the Huskers play for the person next to them.
“It shows how close we are as a team,” Sun said. “Our fans don’t get to see it, but we are always hanging out with each other and we’re like best friends.”