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John Cook on the radio: Nebraska-Penn State match will have top-10 teams and star middle blockers

John Cook on the radio: Nebraska-Penn State match will have top-10 teams and star middle blockers

NU volleyball vs. Penn State, 11/02

Penn State's Kaitlyn Hord tries to hit through the block by Nebraska's Lexi Sun (left) during a match last season at the Devaney Sports Center. Hord, one of the top middle blockers in the nation, and the seventh-ranked Nittany Lions face Nebraska on Saturday

One of the best rivalries in college volleyball — Nebraska vs. Penn State — will be played on Saturday in Lincoln, and once again both teams are ranked in the top 10.

Seventh-ranked Penn State will take on No. 8 Nebraska at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The match will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

Penn State is currently on a seven-match winning streak, and will have one more match on Friday against Iowa before playing Nebraska. Nebraska plays Rutgers on Friday.

The Nebraska-Penn State match will feature two of the best middle blockers in the country in Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins and Penn State’s Kaitlyn Hord. During conference matches, Stivrins ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in hitting percentage with a .466 mark. Hord is hitting .423, and she also ranks near the top of the league in blocking.

“She’s very good,” said Nebraska coach John Cook of Hord on Tuesday during the Nebraska volleyball radio show on the Husker Sports Network. “She’s very dynamic.”

Hord, from Lexington, Kentucky, was the No. 4-ranked national recruit in the 2018 recruiting class.

Hord has 386 hitting attempts this season, and ranks second on the team in kills with 172.

“They try to set the middles as much as they can,” Cook said. “They’ve got a setter, Gabby Blossom, who flings it. They set the middle a lot.”

Nebraska and Penn State split two matches last season, with the home team winning each.

This is the only match between the teams in the regular season this year. Each of the last three matches in the series have been five-set matches.

Volleyball team grieving: The volleyball team is having a difficult week after the weekend death of Dane Leclair, who was in his first year as one of the four graduate managers for the volleyball program and a student at UNL.

Leclair, of Pittsford, New York, died after falling from the fourth floor of a parking garage in downtown Lincoln. Officer Angela Sands said that after reviewing video surveillance the death appeared to be accidental. She said an autopsy would be done to determine if alcohol was involved.

Cook said he’s never experienced anything like this during his time as a college coach.

“It’s a really tough deal, and we really feel terrible for his family,” Cook said.

Four representatives of the volleyball program will attend the funeral in New York on Friday.

The team had a short practice on Monday, and also practiced on Tuesday. Practice is also an emotional experience because when the team does drills that Leclair would be helping with there’s a reminder that he’s not there.

The players still decided to attend Boo at the Zoo as a community service activity on Tuesday.

“I said, ‘You guys, you don’t have to do this,’” Cook said. “They’ve had a lot of time occupied the last few days with all of this. They said, 'We want to go, and we want to be with the kids.' I thought that was a really healthy, positive sign that they want to be together."

Parent meetings: Cook talked about the challenges high school coaches face when it comes to parents interfering with the team with questions about their students’ playing time, instead of letting the student and coach handle it.

Cook says it's fine if the parents of the Nebraska volleyball players call him about health or other concerns. But he’s told the players in recent years if their parents call Cook about playing time, or positions on the team, then he’ll call in the player and make it a conference call with the parents, the player and Cook.

Apparently most players don’t want to have a discussion about playing time that includes their parents.

“I’ve had one call since,” Cook said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or 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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