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"You have to immerse yourself in every aspect of the program": Cook tries to prepare assistants to be head coaches

"You have to immerse yourself in every aspect of the program": Cook tries to prepare assistants to be head coaches

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Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook is known for having assistant coaches go on to get jobs as college head coaches.

Former Cook assistants are now the head coaches at Kentucky (Craig Skinner), Illinois (Chris Tamas) and Louisville (Dani Busboom Kelly).

When Cook hires assistants, he asks that they’ll stay with the Huskers for three years, and if they want to advance after that, he’ll help them.

Right now Nebraska’s two full-time assistant coaches — Kayla Banwarth and Jaylen Reyes — are each in their first full-time job in women’s volleyball. Banwarth organizes Nebraska’s recruiting and coaches the defensive specialists, and Reyes is the defensive coordinator and coaches middle blockers.

Cook tries to prepare the Nebraska assistants to be qualified head coaching candidates, and then to be successful if that happens.

“What I tell these guys several times a year is that you have to immerse yourself in every aspect of the program,” Cook said. “So Kayla, you’re not just a recruiter.”

Sometimes Cook has the assistants join him when he has meetings with other departments in the athletic department, such as academics or marketing. Last week, Banwarth and Reyes filled in for Cook taking phone calls from fans on the Nebraska volleyball radio show.

Cook also challenges the assistant coaches to come up with one thing to make the program better. Reyes came up with something new for practice, and Banwarth had some ideas for some of the things the program does to promote itself on social media.

“I’m just constantly challenging them to contribute to Nebraska volleyball. We don’t want to just stay where we’re at,” Cook said.

Big Ten leaders: Nebraska will play a rare Sunday match when the Huskers host Michigan at the Devaney Sports Center. The match will begin at 1 p.m. and is on TV on ESPN2.

Michigan comes into the match tied for first place in the Big Ten standings with a 5-0 record. It’s the first time the Wolverines have started 5-0 in league play. Michigan (12-3) was ranked to begin the season, but has been unranked for the past month.

Like Nebraska, the Wolverines also played on Friday, beating Iowa in four sets. Michigan has yet to play a ranked team during the conference season, with wins against Ohio State (twice), Rutgers, Maryland and Iowa.

Michigan outside hitter Paige Jones is averaging 5.17 kills per set to lead all Big Ten players in conference matches.

Nebraska has an eight-match winning streak against Michigan, including two last season.

Run-stopper: In Nebraska’s four-set win against Michigan State on Friday, each team went on some long scoring runs. That included when Michigan State won the first set by ending it on a 7-1 run.

Cook said the Huskers need to play tougher to stop runs like that from happening.

“We’ve got to find a way to stop it, and really what you need is a player to say, ‘I want the ball,’” Cook said. “And a passer to say, ‘I want to pass this,' and execute. We’ve got to get better at not giving up runs.”

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


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Husker volleyball/women's basketball 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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