NU’s John Cook says adding UCLA, USC to Big Ten is ‘epic’ for league’s volleyball scene | Volleyball


College volleyball in the Big Ten Conference is already outstanding — it has many of the best players in the nation, large crowds and several league programs each season capable of making a run deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Still, when UCLA and Southern California join the league Nebraska coach John Cook says it will be “epic.” About three weeks ago, the Big Ten announced the two West Coast schools will join the conference in 2024.

While UCLA and USC haven’t been regular national title contenders recently in volleyball, they’re still two of the big-name programs in the sport. UCLA has won four national championships, and USC three.

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“It makes the Big Ten Conference coast-to-coast,” Cook said of the new programs. “It’s going to create tons of interest in matchups — West Coast vs. East Coast, and then you got the Midwest programs. For volleyball, it’s going to be the superconference.”

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When the new teams join, it will mean that at least 11 of the NCAA championships since 2006 were won by teams playing in the Big Ten. Penn State, Nebraska, UCLA and Wisconsin have each won titles in the past two decades.

“It’s going to be a great challenge to be in that conference with those two teams coming in,” Cook said. “You’ve got most of the national champions in the last 15-20 years have been won by Big Ten teams, or UCLA or USC.”

Nebraska has faced off against UCLA five times during the NCAA Tournament, and USC three times.

Next winter the coaches will begin to work on how the league schedule will look when expanding to 16 teams. The league currently plays a 20-match schedule with at least one match against each league team.

No match at PBA: Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts has asked Cook to consider playing a match at Pinnacle Bank Arena at some point to accommodate a crowd of up to 15,000 fans, but Cook says that won’t be happening this season.

The Huskers are playing Creighton at CHI Health Center Omaha on Sept 7, and that should be able to accommodate most fans who want to attend a Husker match but can’t regularly get into Nebraska’s 8,000-seat venue.

“We’re going to Omaha, so there’s our big arena in Nebraska,” Cook said. “Maybe next year we’ll look at it. Trev would like us to, but we only get so many home matches, so we try to take advantage of playing over here.”

Olympic tribute: Last fall Cook proposed building a statue of former Husker Jordan Larson at the Devaney Sports Center as a tribute to one of the most successful American volleyball players ever at the college, professional and national team levels. Larson was the captain of the first-ever US women’s volleyball team to win an Olympic gold medal at the 2020 Games.







Michigan vs.  Nebraska, 10.1

Former Husker Jordan Larson waves to the crowd as she wears her gold medal in volleyball from the Tokyo Olympics during Nebraska’s match on Oct. 1, 2021.


JOURNAL STAR FILE PHOTO


Cook said Nebraska’s administrators haven’t agreed to a statue of Larson and are considering other options to honor a larger group of athletes. But Cook still hopes to have a banner at Devaney this season to honor Larson and the two other ex-Huskers on the Olympic team, Justine Wong-Orantes and Kelsey Robinson.

Back overseas: The plan is for Nebraska to take its next overseas summer training trip next year. Nebraska’s last trip was in 2019.

“We’re pretty open to where we want to go, but the plan is to go next year,” Cook said.

The preference would be to go to Nebraska’s regular destinations of China and Japan, but they’ll find a new spot if there are travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Many college programs travel to Europe.

It will be a good time to go because Nebraska will have only a few or no seniors in 2023, and the team that travels overseas could largely be together for a few years.

Meyer moves on: During the volleyball offseason, Kalynn Meyer — a top-25 national recruit from Superior — left the volleyball team to focus on a Nebraska track career. Meyer hadn’t been a starter in her first two seasons, and that wasn’t likely to happen this season.

Did Cook see Meyer ever becoming a starter at middle blocker for the Huskers?

“It’s hard to know, but she was doing some really nice things and picking up the game,” Cook said. “She’s coachable and smart. She’s a really good athlete.”

Briefly

* Nebraska’s first practice of the season is Aug. 8. Cook doesn’t anticipate any players missing workouts due to injuries on the first day.

* Annika Albrecht — one of the great stories in program history after going from a walk-on defensive specialist to an All-American outside hitter on a national championship team — has been hired as an assistant coach at Montana.

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