By Randy York
Last weekend, without its No. 1 setter, Nebraska's No. 2-ranked volleyball team re-learned the meaning of the most important word in the Huskers' vocabulary: T-R-U-S-T. Trust me on this one. John Cook and Lauren Cook couldn't have been prouder about the way Dan Conners took on some of the head coach's responsibilities last week and the way senior captain Brigette Root stepped in for the Huskers' starting setter and kept Nebraska's season in lockstep progress while Cook dealt with the most difficult time in her life. Ten years ago, John Cook made this observation: "Trust. Without it, there's no team. Of the teams I've coached that have been successful, all have had an unbelievable amount of trust in each other."
In his first year as a Nebraska assistant, Conners has seen a high-character team reinforce its inherent trust in each other. "It's a testament to Coach Cook and the way he runs the program," Conners told me. "It's also a testament to his players on how they've learned to respond to a difficult situation. Trust has been the theme for this team - from the big changes in new players and the new staff to competing in a new conference. We knew trust was going to be a big issue this year, and that's been the point of emphasis for our players and staff all year. We've all taken it to heart and learned how to trust in ourselves and each other. It's something Coach Cook believes, I believe, the team believes and the staff believes. We all know you can go a lot farther collectively than you can on your own, and we all know that it takes a lot of trust to do that."
Root exemplifies Nebraska volleyball trust like no one else. Cook calls his backup setter from Grand Island (Neb.) High School "Rudy" because as a walk-on, she embodies the team-first spirit. She not only sets the standard for work ethic, but also earns the respect of her teammates. Cook says she's probably earned more respect than any single player he's ever coached. With that in mind, I couldn't help but ask Root, who graduated first in her high school senior class of 443, how important trust is in a grueling sport. "It's huge and what makes this team so successful," she said. "It's not something that's developed in a day or a week or a month. It's something we've been working on since last January and really hounded on when the freshmen came in. This team's been through a lot of adversity, and we've really stuck together through tough times. Our trust has grown even more and must continue to grow. We have a mission every day we go to practice. We know we're not the most talented team out there. We're not the biggest, the fastest or the most physical, so we have to make up for that to be a great team. We have to trust each other.
"I'm a perfectionist, but trust is an area where I've really grown since I've been at Nebraska," Root said. "I've learned how to overcome difficulties, why you can't be perfect when you have no idea what's going to happen and why it's okay to be uncomfortable. This team is so focused on trust that you learn how to compete, do what you can do, live in the moment and move on. My mom was a gymnast here at Nebraska, and my dad played tennis at UNK (University of Nebraska at Kearney). I played both sports in high school, and they both taught me how to be tough, work hard and fight through things when you're out there by yourself. The biggest part of being on a team is the other people around you. It's not about you. There's no such thing as a one-man or one-woman team. That's really helped me compete here. Even though I may not have the biggest role, I have a role, and I will do anything for this team ... anything."
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