Nebraska volleyball head coach John Cook began Friday’s press conference on a playful note, referring to freshman middle blocker Callie Schwarzenbach affectionately by her nickname, “Callie Schwarnez-block.”
“(Schwarzenbach) informed me today that there are only two teams practicing today, and we’re one of them,” Cook said with the wriest of smiles on his face. Cook and his squad are feeling good, and it’s easy to see why. Thursday night, the Huskers rallied back against Illinois, winning three straight sets after dropping the first two games, to send themselves to their second consecutive national championship match.
Nebraska shouldn’t be in Minneapolis. The Huskers were veritably written off by the media and even ardent fans after Nebraska lost five of their eight matches in the month of October. The only person who isn’t surprised that Nebraska has wound up in the national championship yet again is Cook himself. “Mikaela (Foecke) and Kenzie (Maloney). That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised,” Cook said.
The two seniors will be playing for their third national championship in four years, a Herculean feat of athletic achievement. “It’s hard to bet against those guys… if it was legal in the NCAA. Of course it’s not legal in the NCAA. But if it was, it’d be hard to bet against those guys,” Cook said, with the timing of a veteran comic.
Stanford, the number one overall seed in the tournament, will be Nebraska’s toughest test of the season. The Cardinal are led by two time AVCA National Player of the Year, Kathryn Plummer. Stanford also boasts a roster that features four players that are 6-foot-4 or above, which makes them a major blocking threat. However, senior libero Kenzie Maloney feels confident that the Huskers will be able to manage their Stanford’s height. “In practice we work a lot on tooling the block and hitting high lines, so it’s something that we’re really comfortable with,” Maloney said.
Like Nebraska, Stanford has a storied volleyball tradition. The Cardinal have won seven national titles, and like the Huskers, have appeared in the NCAA tournament every year since its inception in 1982. “I think both programs (Nebraska and Stanford) have high expectations,” Cook said. “There’s tradition at both those schools.” The biggest difference though, according to Cook? “Probably the cultures are a lot different from Stanford and Nebraska. I know parking and going out to eat is a lot cheaper in Lincoln than in Palo Alto.”
For Cook and company, the time to get serious starts tomorrow. For now, Nebraska can enjoy their time in the limelight as one of the most successful and productive teams in Nebraska’s storied program history.
(Photo by Kenny Larabee)