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John Cook always wants the Nebraska volleyball team chasing somebody, and right now it's Stanford
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John Cook always wants the Nebraska volleyball team chasing somebody, and right now it's Stanford

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The college volleyball offseason is seven months, and that’s a long time in the world of a player and coach.

There isn’t a next team on the schedule, and that’s a lot of training to push through when nothing is on the line.

Nebraska coach John Cook still likes to have a target, and that philosophy has worked out really well for the Huskers over the past five years.

The latest team that Nebraska has been chasing is Stanford, and that’s Nebraska’s opponent on Wednesday in a 7 p.m. match at the Devaney Sports Center. The match is on TV on the Big Ten Network.

Nebraska (7-0) is the No. 1-ranked team in the country, and Stanford is No. 2, with the teams flipping spots in the poll after Stanford lost its first match last week, ending a 37-match winning streak over two seasons.

This will be the first time Nebraska has played a match as the No. 1 team in the nation since Nov. 26, 2016.

Nebraska’s match against Stanford will be the fifth all-time No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in program history. The only other No. 1 vs. No. 2 match played in Lincoln was on Aug. 26, 1995, when No. 1 Stanford beat No. 2 Nebraska at the NU Coliseum.

Nebraska and Stanford were the teams in the national championship match last season, with the Cardinal winning in five sets. And Nebraska or Stanford has won the past four NCAA titles, with two apiece.

There is a lot of excitement for the match, but no team will win a conference or national championship on Wednesday. And Stanford is probably further along after returning most of its team from last season, while Nebraska starts two freshmen and has no seniors.

It was about six years ago, when Penn State was at the top of college volleyball, that Cook said Nebraska started making decisions in training, recruiting and its playing systems based on what the Huskers would have to do to catch Penn State, especially on defense. That worked well, resulting in Nebraska winning two national titles in three years, and two head-to-head matches against Penn State in the NCAA Tournament.

Now it’s Stanford that Cook has the Huskers chasing.

“Stanford is No. 1 right now, so we got to base everything with how to beat Stanford,” Cook said in August. “How we train, and how we approach things and the level they have to be at in the gym.”

During preseason practice in August the Huskers worked on the things that hurt them in the championship match, including some missed serves in the final set.

“We weren’t really preparing for anybody in two-a-days, so our theme was, OK, here is how big and physical Stanford is, how are we going to prepare for a team like this, and how are we going to create our systems to go against a team like that,’” Cook said. “Because we’re going to see several teams like Stanford.”

Some coaches wouldn’t make offseason goals or decisions based on a single team, but Cook sees purpose in doing so.

“Those are the teams that are playing for national championships, so you better be at that standard,” Cook said. “That’s what we’re trying to do here, I think. We haven’t changed our goals as far as I know. I just think you have to have a measuring stick of who you’re going against. Like in the NFL it’s the New England Patriots. Everybody is chasing those guys. I think there’s probably a lot of teams chasing us. We got to be chasing somebody, and have a standard to go against.”

Stanford returned first team All-Americans at setter (Jenna Gray), outside hitter (Kathryn Plummer) and libero (Morgan Hentz), and they’re each seniors.

Plummer is the two-time national player of the year. Hentz was amazing in the championship match with 32 digs. Nebraska studied Hentz in the offseason.

Nebraska setter Nicklin Hames thinks it’s fine that Cook scheduled Stanford, even though Nebraska would be a young team to start the season.

“Stanford is definitely one of the best teams in the nation and they have a lot of experience, and I think you can really test to see how good you are against them, and if you can battle, then you know that you’re there,” Hames said.

Briefly

The Stanford volleyball team did a community service activity at Hartley Elementary School in central Lincoln on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday’s match. In a video posted on social media by the Stanford volleyball program the players are shown teaching volleyball skills to students. The players also talked to the students during snack time and signed autographs.

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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