How do you judge how good a setter is in volleyball?
Twenty kills for an outside hitter is a fine match. A middle blocker can rack up big blocks and a high hitting percentage.
Lauren Cook doesn’t have those stats. She’s the setter. But if there were a stat for how-did-she-do-that plays that allowed her team to score a point, the Nebraska senior would be on that list.
Such as when she tips the ball over the net so smoothly on the second touch that you know the opponent won’t have a chance.
“In my opinion, I think she’s the best setter in the country,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “I watch a lot of video, and if you look at her location, her decisions, what she’s able to do with out-of-system balls, there is nobody better in the country when a ball is dug somewhere off the court, of her being able to better the ball and get a swing.”
Remember, though, John Cook is also Lauren’s father, so his statement should come with an explanation.
Two days before Nebraska began play in the NCAA Tournament, John Cook explained how you can evaluate setters:
1. The biggest stat for a setter is a team’s hitting percentage, the coach says. This season, Nebraska is hitting .290, up from .266 last season. This season’s mark is 10th nationally. In conference matches, Nebraska hit .296, trailing only Penn State (.300.)
2. Decision making, and location of the sets. Also, running the game plan, and adjusting when the plan changes.
“She’s as good a setter as I’ve had that can make adjustments and follow game plans,” the coach said.
3. Creativity. For example, some point guards in basketball just move the ball around, and others really create scoring chances, the coach said. Some quarterbacks scramble and are able to find open receivers. Others run out of bounds.
Lauren Cook can set up the big basket and find the open receiver.
“You can’t coach that,” John Cook said. “It’s a sixth sense of where to put the ball.
“She made a play today in practice that was ridiculous. She had a bump set thing she did to Hayley Thramer that was ridiculous. Our team went nuts. They mobbed her. That’s what separates her from a lot of setters.”
Dani Busboom-Kelly played setter for the Huskers, and coached in the SEC and Big East before returning to Nebraska this season as an assistant coach.
“I think what makes (Lauren Cook) one of the best in the country is that she can put the ball on the money from anywhere,” Busboom-Kelly said.
“When she’s bump setting a dog, which is slide, so the middle is running behind, she makes it look easy, and that’s probably one of the hardest sets to make, and there is probably not anybody else that can do it. She does it, and it’s on the money 90 percent of the time.”
John Cook says there are bad setters, and it is often the location of their sets that tells the story.
He mentioned one player in particular whose sets are “all over the place.”
“You notice how many balls are trap set, where it’s tight to the net so they just have to tip it or throw it over, and how many balls (attackers) can’t get to and hit,” John Cook said.
Only two setters were named to the 16-player All-Big Ten first team. Cook was one, and Micha Hancock of Penn State the other. Hancock was given the inaugural league setter of the year award. The setter for the No. 1 team in the country also ranks second in the Big Ten in ace serves (59).
Karch Kiraly, an ESPN commentator and Team USA coach, has broadcast two Husker matches. He says he hasn’t seen enough matches to fairly rank where Lauren Cook is among the nation’s setters, but he was impressed.
“It seems like she’s paying particular diligence to keeping everybody involved in the offense, and keeping it so opponents can't key on any one of those weapons,” Kiraly said.
As for those out-of-system plays, when the pass is not right to Lauren Cook in the middle of the court? That’s what she enjoys.
“Through my training throughout my life, one of the things I’ve focused on is when a pass isn’t perfect making sure you put up a hittable ball,” said Lauren Cook, who may continue to play professionally.
“I almost want to say I would rather have a pass that’s out-of-system, because those are the situations that I think are fun as a setter. It’s fun for me to go run and chase down a ball, and it’s a challenge to put it up and get it perfect for a hitter.”
It’s the out-of-system plays that Lauren Cook makes that stand out to Busboom-Kelly.
“Just watching her set balls that are like the worst pass, those are the ones that stick out to me,” she said. “Seeing her running off the court and bump setting a ball all the way across the gym, and Hannah (Werth) going up to kill it. That’s what makes us good. We can win those points. Most teams are giving free balls.”