Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Epic Win Deserves Legendary Status, Win or Lose

By Randy York

Huskers Dig Deep to Top No. 1 Penn State

Nebraska Has Penn State's Number Again

John Cook is a relentless competitor, a tenacious leader and a confident teacher. Nebraska’s head volleyball coach is also ultra-decisive. I mention that because, unsurprisingly, he does not hesitate to share his personal thoughts with the media or, for that matter, anyone else who might be interested.

“I said it was going to be an epic match and it was,” Cook said after his No. 5 seed Huskers outlasted No. 1 seed Penn State Thursday night in five sets before a sellout crowd at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

“Everybody should have gotten their money's worth,” Cook said. “This team never ceases to amaze me with how resilient they are and how much fight they have and how hard they work together. The Big Ten prepares us for matches like these. There's never any panic on our side, and they just continued to grind through it.”

Cook praised setter Kelly Hunter, who had 23 digs. “She’s really a competitor. She's beaten Penn State seven straight times,” he pointed out. “I mean, you tell me. Has anybody ever in the history of volleyball done that? I don't know what it is about her when she plays them. They always bring out the best in us. She runs the show. She sets things up, and she did a great job tonight.”

After reminding the media that the Huskers drew a record crowd of nearly 19,000 fans, Cook embellished another favorite expression.

With a Whimsical Smile, Cook Says All Nebraskans Follow the Huskers

“For those who don't follow our program, there were 1.8 million people watching this tonight in the state of Nebraska,” Cook said. “They're following this team, and you can see how many Nebraskans came down here.”

Such a magnificent sight is “what makes it so cool about being a Husker and coaching and playing for Nebraska, because it is such a big deal,” Cook said.

Nebraska’s head coach was on a roll, so he decided to share something whirling around in his head, if not his heart. “Regardless of what happens in the finals,” Cook said, “this team will go down as a legendary team in the chronicles of Nebraska volleyball history.”

Cook immediately followed one exclamation point with another, adding that Hunter also “will go down as one of the greatest setters ever to play at Nebraska.”

Connecting the team leader with everything else in this season’s overall experience is indisputable 

“Those guys have done an amazing job,” Cook said. “They’ll be legends, and they’ll be talking about this team for a long time.” Make no mistake. Husker leaders share their head coach’s personal thoughts.

Mikaela Foecke Appreciates Nebraska’s Fan Base, Husker Teammates

“Our crowd is a big and important part of us, and having so many Husker fans here is great,” Mikaela Foecke said. “Seeing them representing and cheering us on is something really special because we have such a great following.”

The roots of that decade-after-decade fan base showcases Nebraska’s passion, drive and spirit. “It kind of comes from within us,” Foecke said. “We did a really great job tonight coming together as a team, and the crowd brought us up, too.”

Hunter’s performance was predominantly critical in the stretch drive. “Every single point of the fifth set is the National Championship point,” she said. “We need to think like that. We need to play like that. The fifth set was probably our best set of the whole match.”

When everything was on the line in the final set, Nebraska’s cupboard was full of energy and exhibited dramatic stamina. “We have great passers and great hitters,” Hunter said. “My first thought is I can set it anywhere and I trust who’s going up.”

The glue that holds Nebraska together is all about belief, confidence and poise. “We serve and pass like crazy,” Hunter said. “We side out. We play defense. We got a little excited. That is normal.”

Why is it normal?  “Because it’s the Final Four,” Hunter said.

The most intriguing part of Thursday night’s upset is what comes next. The Huskers play Florida in Saturday night’s NCAA Championship match.

The Gators outlasted defending national champion Stanford in five sets in Thursday’s late semifinal.

Stanford Grad Kerry Walsh Jennings Shares Who She Thinks Will Win the Title

Cook meant what he said. Regardless of what happens in the finals, the overachieving 2017 Huskers will indeed go down as a legendary team in the chronicles of Nebraska volleyball history.

But let’s be honest about Nebraska’s powerhouse program that bleeds red in pride and tradition.

It would take days, if not months, and maybe even years to process a loss to another university that has never won an NCAA National Championship in volleyball.

The ultimate kicker: Kerry Walsh-Jennings, a professional Olympic volleyball player and three-time Olympic gold medalist, is in Kansas City this week.

Asked by a local sportscaster who Walsh Jennings thought would win between Florida and Nebraska in Saturday night’s NCAA Championship, she hesitated. “I knew you were going to ask me that,” she said with a big smile.

The answer? “Nebraska,” Walsh Jennings said.

That is a powerful pick for a legendary athlete, and Big Red fans everywhere hope the Stanford graduate is every bit as smart as she is talented.

Could This Be Cook's Best Coaching Job Ever?

Send a comment to ryork@huskers.com (Please include city, state)

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