Despite 2nd Title in 3 Years, 2017 Nebraska Was Much Different Than in 2015

  2 Derek Johnson | December 19th, 2017 | Big Ten, College - Women's Indoor

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are the 2017 National Champions, giving them their second title in three seasons. While both went through similar paths and contained several players who partook in both, the two teams had some vast differences.

“Well, that 2015 team they actually had similar journeys,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “We lost early this year. We lost to Northern Iowa, and that team lost to Minnesota and Wisconsin back-to-back at Nebraska, which hadn’t happened since 1988, I think. And then we had a meltdown as a team, a staff, the whole thing, and 24 hours later, we regrouped. We went on and won 32 straight matches over the next two years, and won a National Championship.”

While that road was similar to this year with some early season struggles following getting red hot and peaking in the NCAA Tournament, the styles of play and the two teams are worlds apart.

“That [2015] team had a lot more talent than this team,” Cook added. “But this team had, like I said, an amazing ability to play hard for each other and make everybody else better. Kelly [Hunter] got to run the show, and I think we had a lot of the great players on that ’15 team that Kelly was just the setter.”

The last statement made by Cook is referring to the fact that Hunter was the leader this year and was the senior to be counted on. In 2015, she was more of a piece of the puzzle as opposed to the glue that sticks everything together.

And while that 2015 roster featured Hunter and Mikaela Foecke as starters, the leading names on the team were All-American twins Kadie Rolfzen and Amber Rolfzen as well as libero Justine Wong-Orantes. Their star-studded roster composition made them a physically dominant force.

This season, they still had Foecke and physically strong players compared to the rest of the country, but in contrast to other Big Ten heavyweights and the 2015 Huskers, this team was a much smaller bunch. They started two former walk-ons in the National Championship match in Annika Albrecht and Sydney Townsend. What they lost in size and power though, they made up for in heart and fundamentals, as they were the best passing team in the country and had an incredible defensive mindset to keep every ball off the floor. They had to be though, as without the dominant block of the Rolfzens or the incredible coverage of Wong-Orantes, it had to be a team effort – and that’s exactly what the Huskers did.

“I saw coach [Terry] Pettit had an article called ‘old-school volleyball.’ It was serve, block, dig and try not to make errors on offense and get a few sideouts,” Cook said. “And you saw our serve-blocking defense really frustrated Florida today. They’ve embraced it and they’ve had unbelievable leadership from the senior class.”

Of course, every team is different, but its rare for things to be so different in terms of style of play and roster composition without having a rebuilding or transition year. That was the talk in the preseason, as Nebraska was picked to be a top 5-10 team in the prseason, but with so many new faces and players to replace wasn’t considered among the elite of the elite.

“We just grinded and had a lot of stuff to work out with new coaches, new players,” NCAA Tournament Co-Most Outstanding Player Kelly Hunter said. “You know what, let’s reinvent the culture, let’s reinvent what we have here at Nebraska volleyball. We worked super hard at that during the summer. All throughout the preseason we were figuring out who we are and opening up the Big Ten, I think we saw who we could be.”

It’s really a testament to John Cook and Nebraska as a program for being able to win with different pieces. That’s especially true considering all of the top-end talent Nebraska lost coming into this year in addition to the coaching staff, but the mix of four senior starters and a talented freshman class pushed the Huskers to their fifth title in program history.

“It’s such a fun group to be around. It’s way different than what I’m used to. They’re loose, they’re fun,” Cook said. “When you have teams like this, you’ve got to enjoy every moment. That’s what everybody I surround myself with kept telling me. You’ve got to enjoy this team every moment. Their quirks, they’re fun, they mess around, they play practical jokes, but they know how to win and they play great together. It’s just been, like I said, really fun and rewarding. I don’t know how to put it in words. I will at some point.

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Derek JohnsonDoug Recent comment authors
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Can’t believe none of your articles mentioned that Nebraska lost both assistant coaches coming into this year.

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