Photo by Stephanie Carpenter/Nebraska Communications

Cook Ready To 'Re-Invent' For 2017

By NU Athletic Communications

By Brian Rosenthal / Huskers.com

Really, you couldn’t blame John Cook if he handed out name tags to virtually everyone associated with his Nebraska volleyball program.

And maybe, just maybe, after Cook crams in his allotted practices over the next 17 days, the veteran head coach will have a better idea of who’s who, who goes where and who does what.

Or, then again, maybe not.

That’s OK, though. Cook understands his task. In fact, he’s embracing this challenge, one very unlike a year ago, when he was simply trying to figure out a way to repeat as national champions.

Four starting players, two assistant coaches and four other staff members are gone from last year’s team that won the Big Ten Conference championship and advanced to the Final Four.

That’s why “Re-invent” is one of Cook’s keywords for 2017.

With six freshmen among a roster of 15, it’s time for baby steps. It’s like going back to the teachings of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach, Cook said.

This is how we’re going to put on our socks. This is how we’re going to tuck in our shirts.

The first step, Cook said, is to be merely a good team by the time Nebraska, faced with its shortest preseason ever, begins the season Aug. 25 against Oregon.

“We want to be good early,” said Cook, whose team held its first practice Tuesday. “By the time we get to the Big Ten, we want to be a great team, and by the time we get to the end of the season and the NCAA Tournament, we want to be unstoppable. I really believe we can do that.”

Summertime conditioning, led by volleyball strength and conditioning coach Brian Kmitta, has positioned this group well.

MOAS – Mother Of All Summers – marked this year’s theme. For 4 days a week, 2 hours a day, Kmitta put players through what he called “shared suffering.” He singled out senior libero Sydney Townsend as a summer standout, and he witnessed some “very high athleticism” from the six freshmen. In particular, he worked on the newcomers’ lateral movement while analyzing individual movements.

In person, Cook said the freshman class will look physically imposing. The question is when, or if, they can transfer that athleticism and physicality into matches.

That brings us to Cook’s other key word for 2017: “Clean,” as in playing clean volleyball.

“What does that look like?,” Cook said. “That looks like a lot of what we try to do, but being really low-error, being smart, making good decisions, because we’re not maybe going to have the firepower or physicality that we’ve had in the past.”

The good news is that Cook boasts a savvy, smart group of upperclassmen with high volleyball IQs, which lends itself to clean volleyball.

Nebraska returns senior setter Kelly Hunter, who’s won a Big Ten Championship and a national championship. All-American senior Briana Holman returns in the middle, where she will team with redshirted freshman Lauren Stivrins. Together, Holman and Stivrins could be two of the best middles in the Big Ten, if not the country, Cook said.

Junior Mikaela Foecke, a Final Four MVP and potential All-American, is trying to become a sixth rotation player who can be used out of the back row as well, while junior Kenzie Maloney could be an All-American at Libero, Cook said.

Questions remain at outside hitter and a player opposite the setter. But overall, Cook likes the pieces currently in position.

Now, it’s time to re-invent.

“We’re going to get on the line,” Cook said. “We’re starting from Day One, basic training.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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