LINCOLN — Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook admitted Monday it wasn't ideal to shuffle his starting lineup for Saturday's win against Northwestern.
But the coach hopes the switch-up held lessons for his young team — particularly his eight-member freshman class — that will carry beyond this season.
“We've got to teach them what it takes to compete at this level and the commitment they have to make,” Cook said. “They can't just think because they're on the court and they've been playing that they can just roll out there and play.
“I've got eight kids that are going to determine the future of this program for the next three years. They've got to learn what it takes, and that's why we're holding them to a standard. If they can't hit the standard, they don't play.”
Freshman Brenna Lyles started at libero against the Wildcats in place of freshman Justine Wong-Orantes, who had started the Huskers' first 20 matches.
In addition, freshman middle blocker Melanie Keil replaced sophomore Meghan Haggerty in the starting lineup, although Haggerty entered the match in the second set and played the rest of the way, racking up eight blocks.
Lyles, a Wimberley, Texas, native who has been used as a serving and back-row specialist, had 15 digs and an ace in Nebraska's five-set win over Northwestern.
“After she settled down, she did a nice job. Her stats were pretty good,” Cook said. “We were crashing into each other the first game. That's nerves and being new out there and trying too hard.”
Nebraska, which remained No. 11 in Monday's AVCA coaches poll, didn't put together a vintage team performance against Northwestern. The Huskers had 25 attack errors, tying their third-highest total of the year. But Cook said Monday he actually came away from the match encouraged Nebraska could pick up a conference win despite not firing on all cylinders.
“Hopefully it's going to give us confidence,” he said. “We know we don't have to play our best to still win in this conference. You can still play well and find ways to win. You've got to win some of those games.”
The Big Ten office seemed to overlook any warts in the Huskers' play last week when the conference's weekly honors were announced Monday. Three NU players took home awards, highlighted by senior outside hitter Kelsey Robinson being named Big Ten player of the week for the second time this year.
Robinson, who shared the award with Michigan State's Lauren Wicinski on Oct. 7, averaged 4.5 kills and 3.0 digs per set in last week's wins over Illinois and Northwestern.
Middle blocker Cecilia Hall earned her first career Big Ten honor, taking home the defensive player of the week award. The sophomore from Sweden had a combined 21 blocks in two matches last week. Hall now is third among Big Ten players in conference matches with 1.52 blocks per set.
Rounding out the honors was outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen, who was named co-freshman of the week, sharing the honor with Wisconsin setter Lauren Carlini. It's the second week in a row the Papillion-La Vista South graduate picked up the award. Rolfzen had 31 kills last week while also averaging 3.5 digs and 1.0 blocks per set.
Huskers face tough road trip
Nebraska hits the road this week for what will be its toughest away weekend of the year, at least according to rankings. NU faces No. 16 Wisconsin on Friday before traveling to No. 9 Minnesota on Sunday.
No Big Ten team has picked up wins at both Wisconsin and Minnesota yet this season.
“Going to Wisconsin and Minnesota this week is about as tough a road trip as you can put together,” Cook said. “We've got our work cut out for us, so we have to see if we can take it up another level.”
No big changes in rankings
For the second straight week, stability reigned in the AVCA top 10, with the top eight teams all remaining the same from last week.
No. 1 Texas, No. 2 Penn State, No. 3 Washington, No. 4 Southern California and No. 5 Florida all won two matches last week. Stanford remained at No. 6 despite a loss to USC.
The Big Ten had seven teams in this week's top 25.
Nebraska stayed at No. 11 in the coaches poll but is No. 8 in the NCAA's RPI rankings.
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Video: Nebraska coach John Cook at Monday's press conference