The Nebraska volleyball program works to develop its athletes as both players and people, including in their confidence.
And, so, even with head coach John Cook seated next to her during a news conference Nebraska senior Madi Kubik wasn’t afraid to have a differing opinion than the four-time national champion coach about one of the hot topics of the week at Big Ten volleyball media days.
The topic: summer access. In some college sports, such as football and basketball, the coaches are able to spend time at practice and in the video room with their teams during the summer. But in volleyball most of the summer work is led by the strength and conditioning staff, along with some open gyms organized by the players.
Since the players are already on campus for summer school, workouts, and helping with volleyball camps, Cook said that it’s “ridiculous” that NCAA rules won’t allow the coaches to lead practices.
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But Kubik, by all accounts just as impressive as a person as a player, sees the benefits of the player leaders taking charge of the team during the summer.
“I kind of disagree,” Kubik said “I see what you’re saying about obviously with other sports having the opportunity to do that, why can’t we? There’s a valid point there. But I also think the summer presents such a unique opportunity for this team-led culture to exist.
“And I think what was so strong on our team last year was having that and instilling the things that are so important to us being Nebraska volleyball players and kind of down through our younger players of that being led by us.”
No matter how much the coaches care about having a great team, the group won’t be successful if the players don’t feel the same way, Kubik said, and that process can start in the summer with the players.
“If we don’t care about it within each other, we’re going to have a problem,” she said.
John Cook, rapper liaison: They say if you don’t evolve with the times in coaching you get left behind, but that doesn’t seem to be Cook, who worked to get a rap song made to motivate the players and add to the game-day experience.
During the offseason Cook worked to get rapper Tech N9ne to make a song about Nebraska — Red Kingdom Huskers — that will be used at matches. Cook is also working on some things for the student section.
The idea came from a song that the rapper made for the Kansas City Chiefs and its “Red Kingdom.”
“I just made enough phone calls, and bugged them enough that finally Tech N9ne agreed to do it,” Cook said. “Of course, he was paid, so Adidas was involved. We want to make this fun.”
Cook said it helped that one of the artists’ representatives had a daughter who played volleyball, and knew about Nebraska volleyball.
The song, which can be used for all Husker sports, makes references to the Husker nation and “spiking and blocking.”
“Once we got everything settled he cranked the thing out in half a day. It’s amazing. He’s very talented,” Cook said.
Tributes to Russ Rose: This season will be different in the Big Ten without Russ Rose coaching Penn State. Rose retired after last season after leading the Nittany Lions to seven national championships – including four straight – and 17 Big Ten titles.
During media days several coaches paid tribute to Rose.
“This is the first time since 1991 that the Big Ten is starting a season without Russ Rose of Penn State who is my mentor, a second father,” said Indiana coach Steve Aird, who worked for Rose at Penn State.
“We had a rule when we were on the road all the time — and I was lucky to be on staff there for a long time — he had a no-tie rule. When we got on the bus and the bus drivers were all formal, he’d say, ‘No ties. There’s no ties allowed.’
“So for me, rocking the no tie was an homage to my mentor. And hopefully he’s enjoying a cigar and some sun down in Florida, but we miss him desperately.”
Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield said Rose went out of his way to help Sheffield when he called for advice.
“If there’s not a statue outside that (Penn State) facility in the next few years, then people have failed,” Sheffield said. “He is the greatest coach that our sport has seen in our country. What he did over decades and decades is unbelievable.”
Katie Schumacher-Cawley is the new Penn State coach. She played for Rose and had been an assistant coach at the school.
League needs help to grow sport: This was the first-ever media days that a conference has hosted for volleyball, and several coaches, including Cook, hope other conferences start having media days as well.
That’s key. While the Big Ten schools probably hope to keep their dominance when it comes to winning national titles, if college volleyball is going to get better TV options for the NCAA Tournament – including more matches on TV, better time slots and more accessible channels – they need more people watching the sport from coast-to-coast, and not just in the Big Ten footprint. That’s part of why women’s basketball and softball have better TV coverage for the NCAA Tournament. It also hurts the volleyball tournament that it goes against football and men’s basketball in December.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen said volleyball wasn’t always on the radar of his friends who watch sports. But that’s changed in the past few years, and now they’re watching matches on TV.
“We’re a sport people are watching because it’s fun to watch, because it’s exciting, it’s drama, great athleticism,” Rosen said. “They’re seeing this and they’re getting attracted to our sport.”
Tweet of the summer: Sheffield, the coach of defending Big Ten and national champion Wisconsin, had one of the Tweets of the summer. There was a video of a T-ball game full of chaos, with players running the wrong direction and getting hit by the ball.
In his Tweet, Sheffield said that chaos is what recruiting can be like. Let him explain.
“It’s madness out there, man,” Sheffield said. “And with the (transfer) portal and NIL. Your eyes are over here, but then this is happening and this is happening. And we can’t talk to anybody until June 15, and then June 15 comes and it’s ‘OK, what time are we allowed to talk to you? What time are you available? Well, I’m talking to this school.’”
Worth quoting: “I think before this whole NIL thing, I would get DMs on Instagram, like, ‘I’d love to collab.’ And I was, like, ‘Sorry I can’t.’ But now I get to answer those and have more communication and open a lot more doors to that side of the business.” — Indiana libero Paula Cerame.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.