LINCOLN — The glow around the Nebraska volleyball team Wednesday wasn't merely the residual effect of a successful sand season that surpassed the expectations of coach John Cook.
Two weeks of playing outdoors brought the sun-kissed Huskers back to Lincoln noticeably more tan and with a new rule.
“I told them if you get sunburned, you can't play,” Cook said.
Nebraska's first foray into sand volleyball may have given it a new appreciation for SPF rankings, but the rest of the college volleyball world would have trouble tabbing the Huskers as newcomers on the beach. They returned to school early Tuesday after going toe-to-toe with some of the top-ranked clubs in the country.
No. 9 Nebraska picked up four dual wins, including a 3-2 victory against No. 7 UCLA, while falling just short in 3-2 losses to No. 4 USC and No. 5 Hawaii. The team's performance, and the bonding time for nearly two weeks away from the demands of class, led Cook to label the season a success.
“It was awesome,” Cook said. “Great weather, great competition. Our team played really well. We really rose to the challenge. We played head-to-head with all the best teams.”
The No. 1 duo of Kelsey Robinson and Alexa Strange proved itself one of the top teams in the country with wins against No. 4 Florida State's top club and the No. 1 duos from UCLA and Hawaii.
Robinson and Strange also lost three-game matches — each of which was decided by two points in the third set — against Pepperdine and USC.
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“They were just a few points away from being the No. 1 team in the country,” Cook said.
The coach also highlighted the performance of Hayley Thramer, who was paired with Amber Rolfzen as Nebraska's No. 2 team. With a more all-around role demanded in sand volleyball, Thramer showed passing and ball-handling skills that a middle blocker seldom develops in the more-specialized indoor game.
“For a middle blocker that has never passed indoors, that's really impressive,” Cook said.
The trip to California, which was extended by two days because of travel delays caused by last weekend's snowstorm in the Midwest, also allowed Cook to integrate three newcomers into the club.
Robinson, a Tennessee transfer, and incoming freshmen Kadie and Amber Rolfzen were able to spend nearly two weeks getting worked into the group, which Cook hopes will pay off during the indoor season this fall.
“The fact those three are here with this group, I don't know if you can put a value on that,” Cook said. “That's a huge plus.”
Now comes a quick turnaround to the indoor season. The Huskers held a brief first practice Tuesday and won't begin team drills until Thursday, 48 hours before the indoor exhibition opener against South Dakota at 3 p.m. Saturday in NU Coliseum.
After two weeks of playing on the beach, Cook wants to give his players a chance to rest their legs a bit. The transition from sand volleyball to the indoor game will likely take some time, so the coach wanted to temper expectations for Saturday.
But the inaugural sand volleyball season still seemed to leave him with a disposition that no amount of sunblock could hide.
“I'm not expecting us to set the world on fire this Saturday,” Cook said, “but these guys are excited to play.”
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