LINCOLN — Nebraska volleyball players use the expression after wins and losses to explain their successes or how they need to improve. It’s a catch-all mantra and one of the program's foundations under John Cook.
Trust your training.
The Huskers, who host Iowa on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Devaney Center, use the phrase as an example of how to rely on fundamentals, stay strong mentally and power through adversity.
“We have really challenging practices and I think the coaches set it up in a way for us to make it harder than the matches,” junior Madi Kubik said. “Practicing trusting your training is the only way to do it, and then in the big moments, we are able to capitalize on that. We worked really hard on the mental side of the game and visualizing doing it perfect over and over again.”
After the Huskers suffered a five-set loss to Utah, junior defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles said NU wasn’t consistent or confident in the late stages of a set, allowing the Utes to escape with a win after the Huskers had two match points.
“When it comes down to those challenging moments at the end of games, that's when you have to trust your training the most, and I think that we haven't done that,” Knuckles said.
The mantra starts early, evident by freshman Ally Batenhorst using it to explain how the Huskers can cut down on errors following a loss to Stanford.
It also works for positive performances. Senior Lexi Sun used the phrase this spring after she recorded five ace serves against Baylor in the regional semifinal.
“We're working on (serving) every single day,” she said. “Sometimes it's easy to get into the games and just not really trust your training. I think that was something that we all did tonight with our serves and I think that really helped us.”
But what does that training look like?
Cook talked about his approach during his weekly radio show Thursday night. He puts them in difficult game-like scenarios in practice and makes them navigate it by figuring out how to overcome the challenge. Cook doesn’t make the drills impossible, but they have to work hard to succeed.
One drill Nebraska runs is the trash can drill, where one player is given a task — such as terminating out of system five times against a triple block when the defense knows they are getting the ball.
“It was Lindsey Licht, she was struggling, so I said, ‘You're gonna do this drill, you got to hit your way out of it,’” Cook said. “It took 35 minutes, but she finally won it out and then went over to the trash can and lost her lunch. That’s why we call it the trash can.”
The Huskers replicate that challenge in other drills, like in serve receive when they have to pass the ball to the setter’s slot five times in a row, or setting where they have to achieve a certain percentage of perfect sets to the pin.
“We put them in situations you don't leave until you get this done,” Cook said. “It's like breaking a horse. They eventually (realize), ‘OK, I'm not gonna win this battle.’ So I'll let them ride the horse … to make sure they do get some success.”
Senior middle blocker Lauren Stivrins returned to normal practice drills Monday.
Huskers Radio Network analyst Lauren Cook West said Wednesday that Stivrins didn’t experience any pain following her first foray back to practice.
The All-American has not yet played this season after she underwent back surgery this summer. Neither Stivrins nor Cook has provided a timeframe on when she might be back on the court in matches.
After Wednesday's match against Northwestern, Nebraska players shared flowers and hugs with former Husker Megan Miller, whose mother, Deanna, died in June after a stroke.
Miller transferred to Northwestern in 2020 and faced off against her former teammates for the first time. Several NU players and parents attended the funeral during the summer and remain closely connected.
Cook said the idea came from Stivrins, who initially wanted to do it before the first serve. After discussions between the coaches, they decided it would be best to give Miller the flowers after the match.
“I texted her (Thursday) and it really meant a lot to her,” Cook said. “It's pretty cool that they have a great bond with our players and they're still really tight.”
Video of the exchange went viral on social media and the moment was featured on ESPN's "SportsCenter."
Miller wrote on Twitter that it “doesn’t matter which side of the net I am on, I am more than grateful for these people, and the lasting impact they have had on my life. And thankful to still have so many Husker fans behind me in my new adventure. It’s so much more than just a game.”