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Pictures in words: Hunter, Cook relive a title season through photos

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NCAA Volleyball Tournament practice - Nebraska, 12/7/17

Nebraska setter Kelly Hunter sets with head volleyball coach John Cook as her target during the team's practice ahead of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, Journal Star

Huskers celebrate a national championship

Kelly Hunter: “The first thought, I think, after we won on Thursday and Saturday, is, OK, we’re all on the ground, and then you kind of just flinch, because you know the rest of the team is coming and you’re about to get tackled. That was my first reaction, ‘OK, we’re about to get trucked over.’ It’s always cool when you look at those pictures, because I know (Mikaela Foecke) got the last kill and we’re all looking at her and trying to hug her. I think you can just see the love we have for each other in those pictures. Everyone is running in and they’re superexcited to come be a part of that moment. Those pictures are really cool to see everyone’s facial expressions. You can just see our relationships, and our love in that picture.”

Red-carpet entrance before the national championship match

Hunter: “It was different than when we were in Omaha (in 2015) because you could actually see everyone right away. So when we pulled up, we said, ‘Oh, my gosh, there are so many people.' It was just a sea of red. There were just so many people cheering, and they had signs and everything, and we were trying to wave at them from the bus. Walking through something like that and high-fiving your fans is not something that every team did, so it’s really cool to be in moments like those and have our fans supporting us like that. It’s just a cool thing to walk though. And we saw our families, and high-fived them and got hugs, and all that. It kind of gets the adrenaline pumping, and gets you ready for the game.”

Lauren Stivrins celebrates a point

Hunter: “Lauren (Strivins) is one of the girls who is always just fired up on the floor, and trying to get everyone fired up. She wants the ball. It’s funny, because I don’t actually see her make those faces, but then you see all these pictures. A lot of pictures of her are floating around in the (volleyball team’s) group chat, and on Snapchat. We love it. We love her energy, and her fire.”

On the final night of the regular season, Nebraska celebrated a Big Ten Conference championship

Hunter: “It never really hits you until that very last game, because it usually comes down to that every year, and we knew if we won (against Iowa) we’d have at least a part of the title, so we knew what we were playing for. I think winning the Big Ten is just such a cool award, especially in the last couple of years, because the Big Ten is seriously the toughest conference for volleyball. Coach (John Cook) always says winning the Big Ten is harder than the national championship. When you look at it, it’s physically taxing and mentally taxing and it’s over 10 weeks. I think it was really rewarding just knowing who our team was this year, and how we were going to have to prove ourselves. And we weren’t just good for one or two games, we were good for the entire Big Ten season.”


Allie Havers’ kill celebration

John Cook: "This was a top-three moment of the year, seeing the reaction from the crowd and our team (to Allie Havers getting her first career kill in the first round of the NCAA Tournament). To me this is what ultimate respect is all about with a player. So even though she didn’t have a major role on our team — and she’s going to be a great story and a great example for us to share with younger players and walk-ons in our program — look at the respect that she gained from her team by the way she behaved and how hard she worked and the way she interacted with her teammates. That picture is worth a thousand words right there. And if you could hear the reaction from the fans, it would be worth 2,000 words."

Halloween trick and treat

Cook: "This is Kelly Hunter right here. This is how she torments me. And this was in a very important practice, if I remember. I didn’t hear anything like they were dressing up, and I told (assistant coaches Tyler Hildebrand and Kayla Banwarth) going down, I said, ‘OK, I just hope it’s not crazy today, because we need to have a good practice.’ And this is what we walked into. And they took it to another level. Their detail, and how they copied all the managers and (athletic psychologist) Brett Haskell, it was so creative and classic, and they did everybody. That was an all-time classic right there. That will be something they’ll never forget. They’ll never forget this national championship, they’ll never forget winning the Big Ten, and they’ll never forget that day. We were belly-laughing for five minutes when they came out. It was classic.”

Holman earns diploma

Cook: "Briana (Holman) is a first-generation college graduate, and I’m a first-gen. When we recruited Briana here, she was not a good student at LSU. One of the reasons that I think she and her family wanted to come here is I think they felt like the academic part, with (academic adviser) Dennis Leblanc, they were really going to take care of her and help her develop into a good student. So that is one significant part about this degree. The other part of it is, for years we didn’t have minority students in our program, and now we do and here is a graduate. And the third part of it is, for me personally, I know what that feels like. I told Briana the only time I saw my dad cry — he passed away in 1996 — the only time I saw my dad cry was when I graduated from college. So it just puts in perspective what that means. She was bawling in Kansas City when they put (a video clip from the UNL graduation ceremony) on the big screen. She had a breakdown. It was powerful. (UNL Chancellor) Ronnie Green says, ‘Hey, we’re missing Briana today,’ and the place goes nuts.’”

Celebrating with a splash

Cook: "That’s Kelly Hunter and Lauren Stivrins trying to mess me up. I think (the TV announcers) were interviewing Kelly, but I know she probably said, ‘Get the Gatorade and dump it on coach.’ They started with the water bottles, and these guys, I tell you, they take it to another level. They got the cooler. The only other time this happened is in 2015, they were squirting the water bottles on me. That was just a little bit. This was major. And, of course, they flooded the court, and all these people are walking around in high heels. I’m, like, ‘Great, somebody is going down.’”

Defense wins championships

Cook: "As ESPN called us, it’s the Big Red digging machine. This picture here reflects the relentless effort on defense by our team. This is the mindset and intensity we had playing defense, when you see three people on a ball like that.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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