Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook keeps taking the team back to Japan and China when the program is allowed to make an international trip every four years, in part because the food, extensive travel and the high level of volleyball takes the players out of their comfort zone and forces them to improve as people and players.

It’s safe to say Jazz Sweet, a junior right-side hitter, really embraced getting out of her comfort zone when she ate a fish head during one of the team dinners during the trip. That, and she wanted to win a bet with some of her teammates.

“Everything was good until the fish eyes, I’ll say that,” said Sweet of eating the fish head. Sweet said she didn’t get sick because of it. In a video posted on social media, Cook can be seen squirming in the background while Sweet ate the fish head.

The team returned earlier this month and is now just a few weeks away from the start of practice.

The trip came at a good time as the team adds six freshmen to the team and begins a two-year stretch where the team could mostly be the same because there aren’t any seniors on the roster. The players had about seven different teammates as roommates during the trip so they could get to know everyone better.

Hayley Densberger, a junior from Malcolm, thinks the trip was more than just a few weeks of fun, and will carry over into this season.

“I think we created a really good bond that will be the backbone of our team this year and will help us get further than other teams that don’t have those strong of bonds,” Densberger said.

Sweet says it’s a trip that she’ll never forget because of the people, the culture of the two countries and the volleyball.

The professional teams the Huskers played in China and Japan don’t make a lot of errors, and force you to do the same to have a chance to win, Sweet said.

“It’s just a different type of volleyball,” Sweet said. “You can tell they work really hard at it every day. It’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Sweet, and many of the Nebraska players, have a goal to play professional volleyball after college, and the trip gave them a small look at that lifestyle.

“It immersed you in what pro volleyball would be like if you landed in another country and you had to just go and play volleyball and deal with different languages and food,” Sweet said.

Not only did the players get to train and play matches against the players from China, but they also had meals together and tried to find ways to communicate with each other despite the language barrier.

“We did a lot of Google Translate, and it was them asking us if we liked their food or how is it at our home. They laughed at us with the chopsticks,” Sweet said.

For Sweet, the best day of the 17-day trip was when they took an overnight train from Shanghai to Tianjin.

“It’s like a big slumber party, basically,” she said. “The rooms were so close, and four to a room, so it was a lot of fun. It was a good bonding experience. We like to talk to each other, so that was ideal.”

The most interesting thing she saw, Sweet said, was the Great Wall of China.

For Densberger the best thing she ate was orange shrimp, which was something she didn’t like before the trip.

The food she liked eating the least was duck heart.

“We went to a dinner and it was the Beijing duck delicacy dinner thing, and there was just a bunch of different dishes with duck, and it was sitting in front of me and I was like, ‘I’m not going to ever get this again, so I might as well try it,’” Densberger said. “It wasn’t my favorite.”

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


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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