From the OWH:
Big start puts Huskers atop national poll
By Jeff Sheldon / World-Herald Correspondent
LINCOLN — Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook told anyone who asked that he and his team were not going to put much stock into the season's opening weekend.
But after three victories, including a five-set win over preseason No. 1 UCLA, it appears his insistence fell on deaf ears when it came to his fellow coaches around the country.
When the AVCA poll was released Monday afternoon, Nebraska was the new No. 1 team, leapfrogging Texas and Penn State to achieve the top spot for at least one week for the second straight year.
The Huskers were ranked No. 1 last October after a four-set win over then-No. 1 Illinois at the NU Coliseum. They held the spot for just seven days after losing at Penn State the following weekend. NU has been ranked in the top spot for 50 weeks since 2001 and 83 weeks in the program's history.
Nebraska received 32 of 60 first-place votes in the poll. Texas remained No. 2 with 24 first-place votes, followed by UCLA, Penn State and Southern California.
Lauren Cook earns Big Ten honors
Nebraska's Lauren Cook was named the Big Ten's co-player of the week and setter of the week on Monday.
Cook, the daughter of the head coach, had double-doubles in all three of Nebraska's wins, including 56 assists and 22 digs against UCLA. The next day, Cook ran a Husker offense that hit .365 against Notre Dame.
“I think these last two matches Lauren has shown why she's one of the best setters in the country,” John Cook said after Sunday's win. “The little plays that she makes — seeing where the block is, finding hitters when we're in chaos. She had two stuff blocks tonight. She serves very aggressively. We ran 32 points last night in her rotation — 32 points. That's an entire game.”
But it's defense where his daughter may stand out most from other setters, John Cook said. Lauren Cook led the team in digs in two of the three matches and was one behind Hannah Werth for the team lead in recoveries on Sunday.
“She had 12 digs tonight. She had 22 digs last night,” John Cook said. “We always kid our setters that they never play defense. Every time Lauren has double-figures in digs, I hear about it.
“That's what makes Lauren great is she does everything well.”
Lauren Cook shared player of the week honors with Michigan outside hitter Lexi Erwin, who averaged 5.9 kills per set in the Wolverines' four wins.
Experience provides poise for comeback
Shaky performances down the stretch last season foreshadowed Nebraska's second-round exit from the NCAA tournament in a five-set loss at home to Kansas State.
John Cook said the team appeared worn down, and off-court distractions took their toll. Building a solid leadership infrastructure became an offseason priority.
The team's seniors began taking weekly leadership classes in January, which eventually expanded to include the entire roster. At least early on, it's hard to argue that the steps taken haven't been successful.
The results were especially evident in Saturday's win over the defending national champion Bruins. The Huskers saw UCLA fight back from a two-set deficit and take a 4-0 lead in the decisive fifth set.
“They never panicked,” Cook said at his press conference Monday morning. “Last year's team would've panicked. That would have been it.”
Nebraska rallied to tie Game 5 at 11-11 before UCLA took a timeout and scored the next two points. But the Huskers responded with a match-ending 4-0 run to escape with a win that put a premium on poise.
“This group, they've been to the top and they've been to the bottom,” Cook said. “They understand. They know. It's a very mature group. We talk about day-by-day, point-by-point and staying in the moment. That's one thing they did so well Saturday night is staying in the moment.”
Junior right-side hitter Morgan Broekhuis was involved in each of NU's last four points, coming up with two kills and combining with teammates on two blocks of UCLA's Tabi Love. Broekhuis said the comeback was a testament to a mental toughness that was built by last season's shortcomings.
“I know multiple times throughout the game we were down a couple points,” Broekhuis said. “I think it was getting close to the end and we had a lot of runs. We have unfinished business, and that's going to be in the back of our minds every game. It's going to push us.”
Haggerty not playing like a newcomer
In the alternate universe where Meghan Haggerty ended up at Wisconsin, UCLA likely leaves the Coliseum with a hard-fought win Saturday night.
But the newest addition to the Husker program earned rave reviews after leading the team with 17 kills against the Bruins. Haggerty, who had never seen a match in the Coliseum before making her debut Friday against Saint Louis, took to the stage much quicker than even her coach anticipated.
“I've seen some of that in practice, but not what I saw on Saturday night,” John Cook said Monday. “What I really like about Meghan is she has a chance to be special. She's had great training with her club team, so she's well versed with what needs to happen. Second, she has a great mindset. She's very calm. She's very coachable. She makes adjustments. She has all the ingredients to be great.”
Haggerty will be given plenty of sets this year if opposing blockers continue to focus on Werth and Gina Mancuso. She provides the Huskers with their best option as a middle attacker since 2010, when Brooke Delano was a first-team All-American.
The freshman arrived on campus in July and quickly got to work with setter Lauren Cook on developing an attacking rhythm. Haggerty leads the Huskers with a .500 attack percentage — 24 kills and four errors on 40 attempts — and already has established herself as a go-to option.
“It makes me feel good that they trust me, and it helps build the trust overall on the team,” Haggerty said. “We had great passes, so Lauren was able to set some good balls, and that's why I was able to get on the ball.”