Randy York's N-Sider
In a time span of less than 24 hours, John Cook's Nebraska volleyball program will play two signature schools back-to-back Saturday and Sunday in two different venues. The challenge begins Saturday at 6 p.m. in the NU Coliseum against the defending NCAA champion UCLA Bruins, the nation's top-ranked team. The weekend ends Sunday when the fourth-ranked Huskers host Notre Dame in a 1:30 p.m. match at Century Link Center in Omaha. The match is the only remaining regular-season chance for non-season-ticket holding fans to watch a live match in person in the state of Nebraska. Since Husker setter Lauren Cook will be playing against the same recruiting class she came in with as a UCLA freshman three years ago, the N-Sider asks Cook several questions, including how she views Saturday night's championship challenge against her former teammates/friends.
Q: Your teammates voted you one of three captains for the defending Big Ten Conference volleyball champions. What's an honor like that mean to the daughter of the head coach?
A: It's a huge honor to think that your teammates and your coaches look to you as a leader. I figure captains are leaders, and it really means a lot to me when people see you as a leader and vote you to be a leader. It's an honor to say that you're a co-captain of the Nebraska volleyball team. I mean, I've looked up to these girls for a long time and now, I'm finally in their shoes, and it's crazy to think about that.
Q: Talk about a challenge in your first competitive weekend as a Nebraska captain. You chose to go to UCLA, and I would guess you still have friends on a team that's the defending national champs and ranked No. 1 in the country three spots ahead of Nebraska. What's that sold-out game going to feel like Saturday night?
A: I was close to some of those girls, and I've talked to them. It's hard because I've been at that school, and it's a place where I formed bonds with those girls and went through a whole season with them. I was only there one season, but I learned a lot about myself when I was out there. It's hard to face them in competition because they're my friends, just like I would never want to compete against Nebraska. It's going to be a tough match, but I love the competition. I love the pressure, and I love the situation. So hopefully it's going to be a great match, and I really think we're going to do a great job playing UCLA.
Q: When you left Lincoln to play at UCLA, you were considered the nation's top collegiate freshman. You were the MVP of a tournament here when UCLA ended Nebraska's 90-match consecutive winning streak. What was the lure of the West Coast to begin with and what made you change your mind and come back home?
A: There is a lot that drives you to California. UCLA is a great volleyball school. They've done some big things, and I was really drawn to that. It's a beautiful campus, very academic-oriented. There were a lot of things that drew me there. The girls were awesome on my official visit. I wanted to play there, and I also wanted to get away from Nebraska because I didn't want to hear people say I was favored because of who my dad is. I felt like I had to get away and prove myself, and UCLA seemed like a great fit. I came back for a hundred reasons, but the biggest one, and I know it's the cheesiest one, but when you get away like I did, you realize that there really is no place like Nebraska. I would always compare UCLA to Nebraska, and you just can't compare it. I say this over and over again, but Nebraska really is like the perfect school. We're very giving here and we have so much to offer. I just think we're the top school in the country for a student-athlete because no one can match up to the opportunities we have here.
Q: Now that you've described pressure and defended your home base, let's talk nostalgia. Somehow, the stars have aligned and you're the setter in the last season Nebraska will play volleyball in the Coliseum. It's been a great ride for 36 years. How big a deal is it to be part of history inside a place where you grew up?
A: You know, I've always looked at the Coliseum as my second home. I feel like I've grown up here, and it means a lot to be able to finish out the last year here. It's a real high honor to play in the Coliseum. We'll be the last group of girls to step on this court, and I'm really proud of that. It's hard to describe in words, but it's very special to me and a thrill that's really close to my heart.
Q: I think people can understand how big a shadow your dad casts in this sport, but after you went away, then came back, what's it been like to play for him?
A: You know, to be honest, half the time I don't even notice. When I'm on the court, I feel like I switch the mode where he is my coach and when I'm off the court, I switch again, and he's my dad. It's another one of those things that's really hard to put into words. It's such a special experience. I'm just thankful I was given the opportunity that I am able to play for him because I just think he's the best coach in the country. I don't say that just because I'm his daughter. You know, I firmly believe that. Playing and being around other coaching staffs and other teams, I just feel that's another one of those high honors I'm thankful for.
Q: Knowing how close you are to your dad, how scary was it when he was hit by a car while riding his bike?
A: It was scary. I got a call from my mom about 8:30 in the morning, and she never calls that early because she knows how much I like to sleep in. When she called, all she said was "Dad's been hit, he's in the hospital and I'm going to run over there right now." My world kind of stopped right there, but thank God he was wearing a helmet, and he's been rehabbing, so he's doing much better.
Q: I've heard that he had an even more dangerous experience climbing a mountain. Do you know anything about that and how long ago that would have been?
A: That's true and goes clear back to when he and my mom were dating when they were in their early 20s. A lot happened in that incident, so he was lucky there as well. He actually fell off the side of a cliff. I've been told that it was 70 feet from where he fell to where he landed.
Q: I guess we all learn how to deal with adversity. Tell me about your growth and maturity on the way to your senior season and being voted a captain.
A: I've grown a lot since I've been here. I've learned a lot about myself and about life in general. I'm just grateful that Nebraska has a great support staff around us, and they keep you moving forward and learning. I've enjoyed speaking and helping others. Sometimes, it's hard to go to a hospital but at the end of the day, it is so rewarding. It just gives you a whole different perspective on life.
Q: The program you're helping to lead is big on being happy and being optimistic. Where are you on all that?
A: Since I've been here, I've learned that you have to create your own happiness. It doesn't come from other sources. It comes from within yourself. Bottom line, if you're happy, you're going to make others around you happy."
Q: What about leadership? What's the key there?
A: It's hard to say what it takes to be a great leader because there are so many ways to be one or define one. I'm actually taking a class right now on leadership. It's a little bit like happiness. It has to come within yourself. You have to be you and if you do what you're supposed to do, you can earn the respect of your teammates. There's no secret recipe to it. I'm not anything special. I'm just myself, and I'm really thankful that my teammates appreciate me and let me be a leader when I'm really just being myself.
Q: After volleyball, what's Lauren Cook want to be and where does she want to go?
A: Well, at first, I didn't want to play volleyball after college. I thought I'd be done. But I actually have changed my mind. I would like to keep playing, whether it's in the Olympics or playing with some professional team overseas. I believe I'm going to end up wherever I'm supposed to be. Once I can't handle volleyball any more, I would love to be an event planner. Whether it's weddings, sporting events, celebrations or parties, I want to plan them. That's what I want to do when volleyball's over - plan events.
Q: Speaking of planning, your dad has spent a lot of time in the off-season helping our capital planning and construction management team plan for next year's move to the Devaney Center? Is that going to be the Taj Mahal of volleyball or what?
A: I'm excited to see what it will look like when it's done. We actually got to tour during two-a-days. They gave us hard hats and we were behind the scenes and in the midst of construction. They gave us pictured layouts of what everything's going to look like and everything that's going into it. I will tell you, it looks like you're walking into a different world. I mean, it is unbelievable what those architects are doing with the Devaney. It will be the No. 1 volleyball facility in the world, and no one will be able to touch it. For people like me who love the Coliseum, let me just say there will be parts of the Coliseum in the Devaney. My dad has worked with the architects and tried to voice the opinions of everything he's heard from across the state. Everyone wants everything to be perfect for the fans and the players, and I think it's going to be as perfect as it can be.
Q: Last question. So much attention has been focused on the defending national champs and the No. 1-rated team playing in Lincoln Saturday night that Sunday afternoon's game against Notre Dame has taken a bit of a backseat at the Century Link Center in Omaha. Why's it important to end the weekend on a winning note?
A: It's really important for us and not just because of the match. We need to experience what the crowd's going to be like and what the court is going to play like because that's where we want to be at the end of the season - in a regional that's in the same place we're playing Sunday. It's a big weekend for all of us, and we appreciate all the fans who support us.
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