The fancy banquets and formal celebrations for winning the national championship will come later for the players and coaches on the Nebraska volleyball team.
But about 14 hours after the team won the NCAA title, the players just really wanted to go get some chicken fingers together. And so, just like the coach of a youth sports team, that’s exactly what John Cook said the Huskers would do.
The morning after the Huskers defeated Florida in the championship match in Kansas City, Missouri, there was a welcome-home celebration back in Lincoln at the Devaney Sports Center. That wrapped up around lunch time.
About an hour later, Cook posted a photo on his social media account of himself and senior Annika Albrecht at Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers.
This was interesting, because Cook is more likely to stop at Whole Foods Market to grab a salad for lunch than eat french fries. It was Cook’s first visit to the fast-food restaurant.
It turns out the story of how the whole team ended up at Raising Cane’s that day goes back to earlier in the season.
“They start these chants, ‘Cane’s on Coach. Cane’s on Coach.’ They want me to take them and buy it,” Cook said.
After the Huskers clinched the Big Ten Conference championship in November, the team was going to go to Raising Cane’s that night, but called it off because it was also Senior Night, and many of the players had families and friends in town.
This time, the players made sure it was going to happen.
“After the ceremony they started chanting, ‘Cane’s on Coach. Cane’s on Coach,’” Cook said. “I go, ‘Are you guys serious? They go, ‘No, Coach, we want to go.’ So I said, ‘OK,’ and I told Lindsay (Peterson), ‘Get the bus; we’re taking the bus over there.’”
So the Huskers piled back on the bus they had been in all week — a really cool bus from Arrow Stage Lines, Cook says, white with a big, red "N" on the side and dark windows — and headed to the Raising Cane’s closest to the arena, near 27th Street and Cornhusker Highway.
“So I told Brian, our bus driver, I said, ‘I want you to pull up to Cane’s and I want to be in front and we’re taking pictures and we’re going to go in and eat and I want you to steal the parking lot.’ So he did,” Cook said. “He pulled right up and we took pictures and we all went into Cane’s. Of course, we went in there and the place is going crazy. It’s packed and the line is all the way out the door.
“Everybody was high-fiving. I said, ‘OK, we don’t want to overtake this place, so get it to go,’ and we all sat on the bus and just talked, had Raising Cane’s. And what was really interesting was we had people’s families waiting for them to take off and go home, like drive to Tennessee, drive to Kentucky. And they just sat on the bus. We were probably there for an hour. They didn’t want to leave. That was our team celebration right there, was Cane’s on the bus. And the coolest bus there is.”
The previous night, after the championship match, many of the players and coaches went in different directions with interviews, photos and celebrating with family and friends.
Now they were back as a team, on a bus, eating lunch. They were relishing a championship, sure, but it’s also a story about a players that just enjoyed being around each other, and having fun. And Cook had a lot of fun being around this team, too.
And while many of the players will be on the team next year, and some of the five seniors plan to play on the beach volleyball team this spring, there are no guarantees.
So it may have been one of the last times the 2017 national champion Huskers were all together.
“So, anyway, it was really nice,” Cook said. “It was really cool just sitting on the bus. It was just us and the bus driver and his daughter, and they were hanging with us. And I don’t think anybody wanted to leave. Finally I said, ‘OK, it’s probably time. We got people waiting, let’s hit it.’
“It was really a cool moment.”