Volleyball Seniors Poised to Win B1G, Make History
Randy York N-Sider
Official Blog of the Huskers
From August through December, John Cook lives in a pressure-cooker, so we can only imagine what the last two days feel like after his top-ranked volleyball team – one point shy of sweeping second-ranked Minnesota inside the Gophers’ trap-door version of Nebraska’s fabled Coliseum – lost three straight sets.
But like a certain song says, that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone.
What we have here is Saturday Night Live for Nebraska’s senior recruiting class that was ranked No. 1 out of high school and remains two accomplishments short of what’s eluded them – a Big Ten Conference championship and winning another NCAA National Championship.
“That was the seed we planted in January, and they’ve done a great job of working toward that,” Cook said, admitting one of the biggest hurdles the Huskers face every year in their last regular-season match is finding tickets to share the post-match Senior Night pomp and circumstance.
Here’s the updated scenario. If Nebraska beats Michigan Saturday night and Minnesota beats Wisconsin, the Huskers will be outright Big Ten champions. If the Huskers and the Badgers both win this weekend, Nebraska and Wisconsin will share the title.
The ironic twist to that is Cook serving his first seven years as Wisconsin’s head coach before coming to Nebraska and winning three national titles in his 17-season stint in Lincoln.
Kadie Rolfzen, Justine Wong-Orantes Closing in on Husker Record Book
Spending 12 of 14 weeks at the top of the AVCA Coaches Poll this season has to be inherently stressful for Cook, who has coached two seniors to record-breaking numbers.
Kadie Rolfzen (pictured below) is three kills shy of reaching 1,500 for her career, a milestone that just six Huskers have surpassed. Justine Wong-Orantes (pictured above) is seven digs away from becoming the first Husker to record 1,800 career digs. “Justine’s a great story. She was a last-minute addition setter who we converted to libero,” Cook said. “She took a huge risk coming here from California and has does an amazing job.”
Fellow seniors Amber Rolfzen and Andie Malloy have also played pivotal roles at Nebraska. “Adding Andie into this class as a transfer (from Baylor) feels like she’s been here for four years,” Cook said. “It’s the smoothest, most seamless transition for a transfer I’ve ever had. She’s part of the family, and it’s just like it was meant to be. This is a great senior class. They’re all really good students, and they all have a chance to play beyond Nebraska if they choose to do so.”
The Rolfzen twins are unique leaders on and off the court. “I’ve been coaching here 16 years, so they’ve been part of half my career here,” Cook said, smiling. “They committed to play here longer than they actually played here. I feel like they’ve been here forever.”
The first couple years as Huskers were not easy. “There was a lot of pressure and expectation, and I think it took some of the fun out of it,” Cook said. “But that’s what’s so cool about the journey they’ve been on. They’ve worked through that. They’ve learned how to manage those big expectations.
“It’s not easy playing here when you have those expectations in front of 8,000 fans expecting you to crush teams 3-0 every night, especially in this conference,” Cook said. “I feel very rewarded as a coach and as a program.”
Praises Rolfzen Twins’ Maturity, Way They’ve Handled Things On and Off the Court
Cook praises the joint progress Kadie and Amber made and how they’ve matured and handled things, on and off the court. “You have to remember, these two were a big part of volleyball winning the Life Skills Award last year,” Cook pointed out.
“I can tell you right now that Kadie and Amber (pictured at the bottom of this blog) get asked to do more things than anybody on our team and maybe get asked more than any student-athlete in the Athletic Department,” Cook said. “They’re constantly getting asked to do stuff, and they’re always out there giving back. That’s why they’re so well-known across the state.”
Through their four years at Nebraska, the Rolfzen twins and Wong-Orantes have helped build a championship foundation. “I think Amber and Kadie and Justine have done a great job of playing a lot of good volleyball over their career,” Cook said. “They’ve been in a lot of big matches. Go back and look at some of the big wins they’ve had.”
No fanfare will disrupt Saturday’s Senior Night “because we honor them after the match,” Cook said, indicating that other than taping a video featuring the departing seniors, “we don’t even worry about it. We take care of everything after the match.”
Multifaceted Andie Malloy Played Right, Left, Setter; Found a Way into Nebraska's Lineup
The biggest stress for departing seniors “is trying to get enough tickets for all their family, extended family, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins that are coming,” Cook said. “That’s the biggest stress of Senior Day at Nebraska.”
The key to coaching in the Big Ten is passing and serving. “You have nightmares every night,” Cook said. “Welcome to coaching. That’s part of it, I’m always worried about that stuff. I think it’s the same with us. We have five hitters that can put the ball away, and a setter that can kill it, and they get it out of the back row, so you have to defend the whole show.”
Malloy (pictured above) found a way to work into the lineup. “I really didn’t have any specific expectations for her,” Cook said. “I knew she was a good volleyball player, but the expectations were to give us depth and see where she could fit in. We had to figure out where we would put her because she’s played right, she’s been a setter, and she’s played left. Baylor actually played her both left and right. We just had to figure out where she could fit in, and if she could make the starting group.”
Malloy embraced continuous quality improvement. “She kept getting better throughout the season,” Cook said. “Her blocking’s gotten better. Training in the gym helped her understand how to attack in the Big Ten. She works really hard.”
Saturday’s Senior Night Match Will Air on NET and Be Streamed at BTN2GO.com
Saturday’s match will air on NET and will be streamed at BTN2GO.com. The Husker IMG Sports Network will broadcast the match on HSN affiliates, including 107.3 FM in Lincoln and AM 590 in Omaha. John Baylor will have the play-by-play and Diane Mendenhall will provide color commentary.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Show will take place on Sunday at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. Should the Huskers be selected as one of the top-four overall seeds, they would not only host the first and seconds rounds next weekend, they would also have a chance to host an NCAA regional the following weekend should they advance. As of earlier this week, standing-room only tickets remain for the potential NCAA first and second rounds in Lincoln. They can be purchased through Huskers.com or the Nebraska ticket office.
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