The Nebraska volleyball team will be young again next season, with only one senior and as many as 12 freshmen and sophomores.
But the youngsters will have gained some experience in the past year with the sand volleyball season, spring exhibition season and soon the training and matches involved with a summer trip overseas.
The Huskers will travel to China and Japan from June 17-July 5. College teams are allowed to make an international trip for competition and team bonding once every four years.
Nebraska’s last trip was to China in 2010. Nebraska coach John Cook had worked on plans to go to Brazil this time, but with the country also hosting the World Cup, travel expenses were higher than expected and many teams the Huskers would have played are leaving the country for tournaments.
Cook considered waiting one year for the international trip, but decided to go this summer. He’s worried that the NCAA may one day decide to not allow international trips, and also wanted to have extra time to work with a team he thinks could be great by the time the NCAA Tournament Final Four comes to Omaha in 2015.
“We just felt like this group could benefit because this group is going to be together for two years with the exception of (senior setter Mary Pollmiller),” Cook said. “We only have one senior. We’re younger this year than last year.”
The players will get to practice before leaving for the trip, but the incoming freshmen aren’t allowed to make the trip.
In Japan, the team will train in Tokyo with the professional team former Husker Nancy Metcalf played for before retiring. The pro teams train about six hours a day, and Nebraska will get to train in the morning, then scrimmage in the afternoon.
“I want our team to experience Japan volleyball because it’s much different from China the way they play and do things,” Cook said. “You don’t wear shoes in the offices. Japan is a cool country. They love their volleyball there. It’s big-time.”
In China, the team will have a more formal competition schedule with about seven matches. The competition will be so tough in both countries that Nebraska will have a hard time winning even a few matches, Cook said.
Tourist activities in Tokyo will include visiting a mall of just electronics stores and a Mizuno store that has seven floors.
In China, stops will include the Forbidden City and Great Wall. The team will be in Beijing on July 4, and may attend a huge celebration for Americans at the embassy.
Sand season still a positive
Nebraska competed in sand volleyball for the second season, playing matches in Hawaii and Arizona during a 10-day trip last month. NU went 3-2 and is ranked No. 10 in the current AVCA sand poll.
Cook continues to view the sand season as a positive for the program. If the Huskers didn’t have a sand team, they’d only be allowed to train two hours per week until the spring season.
“This allows us to train 20 hours a week,” Cook said. “We don’t train that much because we still want them to have a break, but it allows us to meet and work on leadership. I think playing sand, our middle blockers love it and they really develop a lot. For somebody like Kelsey Fien, it’s really good, because she had to be a complete volleyball player. Kelsey, Melanie Keil, Mary Pollmiller and Alicia Ostrander made huge improvements over the sand season. It was incredible how much they improved.”
Not in Nebraska anymore
Most of the best sand volleyball teams are still in Hawaii and California, where players have more beach volleyball experience, and Cook told a story of how the Nebraska players showed their beach inexperience while in Hawaii.
“This is how naive we are in sand volleyball,” Cook said. “Sand Socks is a company that makes sand socks. When you play when it’s really hot, you can put the sand socks on so you don’t burn your feet. We gave all the girls sand socks for the trip. About half of them didn’t bring them, so when we get to Hawaii the sand is burning in the afternoon. We asked the girls, ‘Where are your sand socks?’ They said they didn’t bring them because they knew it was going to be warm. Are you kidding me? They were dead serious. They thought the sand socks were to warm up your feet when it’s cold.”
Spring matches start this week
Only three days after the sand volleyball season finished, Nebraska began training for the indoor exhibition season, which will include just two matches this year. None of the matches will be played in Lincoln because of ongoing construction at the Devaney Sports Center.
Nebraska will play at Iowa State on Saturday. On April 26, Nebraska will play Creighton in Wayne. Wayne State College has wanted to host a Husker spring match for several years, and Cook used this year as an opportunity to help the city raise money for recovery from the tornado that hit the town last year. The match sold out in less than two weeks.