John Cook has been the head volleyball coach at Nebraska 12 times when the program has honored its senior class.
When the 13th time occurs Saturday following the Huskers’ match against Northwestern, it will be unique, as Cook will also be on the court for the ceremony as the parent of a Nebraska player — starting setter Lauren Cook.
Saturday’s match will also be the final regular-season match played at the NU Coliseum before the team moves to a renovated Devaney Sports Center next season.
The Coliseum should still be the site of a few more matches, though, as the 10th-ranked Huskers will likely be selected to host NCAA Tournament first-round matches next week.
The other seniors to be honored Saturday are Paige Hubl, Gina Mancuso, Allison McNeal and Hannah Werth.
John Cook says Saturday will be a special moment for him and his wife, Wendy.
“I think any parent that had their daughter go through Nebraska volleyball and finish as a senior, that has to be a very proud moment, whether they were a starter, an All-American, or didn’t play much,” he said. “For your daughter to go through this program and go out on Senior Night is going to be a very proud moment; it would be for any parent.”
After first setting out on her own and playing at UCLA, Lauren Cook returned to play at Nebraska her final three seasons.
She helped the Huskers win a Big Ten championship last season and is a co-captain this year.
John Cook and Lauren Cook have been cautious in how they handle the player-coach relationship. John Cook will praise his daughter publicly on occasion for her play, but also mentions the times he thinks she could have played better.
This week, John Cook shared some of his most extensive thoughts on coaching his daughter.
“She’s been humbled in a lot of ways,” he said. “She left a UCLA team where those kids won a national championship (in 2011). She came here and had a tough time last year (after being suspended for two matches) and had to work through that.
“I’m not sure she would trade any of that for the experience she’s had here at Nebraska. She’s an amazing kid. She’s done a great job here and worked hard. It’s not easy having your dad be the coach. I think she’s done a great job of managing that.”
John Cook has also got to see the student-athletes in a different way. As part of a project for her major in hospitality, restaurant and tourism management, Lauren Cook recently had to run an event for a local group.
It went so well that she got a lead on a job, and she was as excited about that as she was in beating top-ranked Penn State earlier this season, John Cook said.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “You come to college, you go though these experiences, you learn, grow, get humbled. You compete, get a degree and prepare for the world. That’s what it’s about for all these kids. At the end of the day, that’s what they’re going to remember, is this journey they’ve been on here at Nebraska and all the things that go with it, good and bad.”
Werth has been a four-year starter for the Huskers, and has experienced a wave of emotion in recent weeks knowing her Husker career will end sometime in the next month.
“Saturday is going to be surreal, just because I feel like I just got here,” Werth said. “I was just a baby, literally, four years ago, and it goes by faster and faster. Looking at myself now, the 22-year-old Hannah Werth instead of the 18-year-old baby. I’ve changed a lot as a person. I’ve learned a lot about life; not just volleyball.”
Werth’s parents will be at the Coliseum on Saturday. Her older brother, Washington Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth, probably won’t, but has said he’ll be there if the Huskers reach the national championship match.
Her mother, Kim, attends nearly every match in Lincoln.
“She maybe missed one, and I think that is when she was out watching my brother in the playoffs,” Hannah Werth said. “It was totally fine, because he had the walk-off (home run) and she was there for that. That’s awesome.”