Going Deep: Huskers Ready For Penn State's Best
John Cook took one look at the Big Ten Conference volleyball schedule, upon its initial release, and told his young Nebraska volleyball team to brace itself for a heck of a start.
“That’s why we had MOAS,” Cook said, “trying to prepare the summer for the opening of Big Ten.”
Friday, the No. 14 Huskers will try to reap the benefits of the “Mother Of All Summers” training regimen in their 7 p.m. match (BTN) at No. 2 Penn State.
“We really have nothing to lose,” Nebraska junior Mikaela Foecke said. “We’re going to their home gym. They’re ranked number two. They’re the ones with the target on their back. We just have to go in and get after it.”
Granted, Nebraska may have a target on its back, too.
The Huskers have won five straight in the series between two of the nation’s premiere volleyball programs. Nebraska defeated Penn State three times last season alone, including the epic, five-game thriller in the NCAA regional semifinals, when the Huskers rallied from an 0-2 deficit after Penn State had match point in game three.
“I’d be willing to bet Coach (Russ) Rose has said something about it,” Cook said.
Penn State, behind a pair of first team All-Americans, leads the Big Ten in hitting (.360), with Haleigh Washington hitting a conference-best .534. Washington averages 2.54 kills and 1.49 blocks per set. Simone Lee, meanwhile, contributes a team-high 3.94 kills per set on .334 hitting.
“You have to outlast them. That’s usually the way it is with Penn State,” Cook said. “They’re tough. They’re physical. They bring it.”
Foecke, who leads the Huskers with 3.29 kills per set, and is averaging 2.71 digs per set, is eager for the challenge.
“Obviously, we want to go in and get after it,” she said. “I think just preparing, going in with a great mindset and just working our butts off every day in practice leading up to it.”
Of course, this is just the beginning of the grind.
Nebraska’s Big Ten Conference opener marks the start of 20 matches in 10 weeks, with this being the only scheduled match versus Penn State.
“We need the same mindset every week for the next 10 weeks,” Cook said.
Nebraska (7-3) plays Saturday at Rutgers (5-7) to conclude the opening weekend of Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights face Iowa on Friday.
In 18 seasons at Nebraska, Cook said he’d never seen the kind of freak play he saw in which middle blocker Briana Holman injured her left ankle at the Omaha Challenge on Saturday.
The good news is that Holman returned the gym on Wednesday and was able to jump and block in controlled situations.
“There’s certain things she can’t do yet, but at least she’s back in the gym,” Cook said. “So that’s good. She’s way farther ahead than what we thought she was going to be.
“When you have an injury like that and you’re in great shape, you can bounce back really quick.”
Cook said Holman’s status is day-to-day, and whether she plays Friday isn’t yet clear.
“We’re not going to push it, because I don’t want this to nag the whole season,” he said. “I don’t want to come back too early.”
The Clarification on Copeland
When Isaac Copeland joined the men’s basketball team midway through last season, the Georgetown transfer faced the significant possibility his collegiate career had only 20 games remaining.
Now, in a clarification of previous reports, thanks to not one, but two waivers the Nebraska compliance office diligently put together and submitted to the Big Ten Conference and NCAA, Copeland has two full seasons of eligibility.
“That’s a dramatic difference,” said Jamie Vaughn, Nebraska Senior Associate Athletic Director for Compliance.
Copeland left Georgetown after playing in 10 games last season as a junior. He transferred, then had surgery in February for an injury he sustained at Georgetown. Because the injury occurred in the first half of the season and Copeland had competed in 30 percent or less of Georgetown’s season, he met the criteria for a medical hardship.
“We wanted to wait for him to have his surgery, have his rehab,” Vaughn said, “and once that all occurred, then we had contemporaneous medical documentation we needed to show that he deserved to have last year back.”
Laure Ragoss, Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, filed that waiver to the Big Ten Conference, as individual conferences, not the NCAA, grant such waivers. On June 27, Nebraska learned the Big Ten had granted the medical hardship, giving Copeland a full season of competition.
Yet because NCAA rules require transfers to sit a full academic year (two semesters) before competing, Copeland, who sat out the spring semester, was still facing the likelihood of sitting the fall semester, too. He would’ve missed games against Creighton, Michigan State and Minnesota before being eligible to return Dec. 16 against Kansas, the first game after Nebraska’s fall semester is compete.
So Vaughn and his staff, after knowing the Big Ten had granted the medical hardship, then went to work on a filing a legislative relief waiver with the NCAA to allow Copeland to participate immediately.
“I was working with Isaac and his family, and Georgetown, to understand the situation better,” Vaughn said, “to see if we had a reasonable amount of information to suggest that he shouldn’t have to miss the first 10 games.”
Because of privacy issues, Vaughn couldn’t elaborate on why Nebraska felt Copeland would be eligible for such a waiver, but the NCAA agreed with the school’s stance. On Sept. 12, the NCAA told Nebraska that Copeland could participate immediately.
“I’m ecstatic for Isaac,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for him. He’s been through a lot health-wise, and for him to get that full year back is great. And it’s certainly great for our program, too.”
Coach Rhonda Revelle’s softball team will begin its fall season Saturday with its Red-White Scrimmage at 3:30 p.m. at Bowlin Stadium.The scrimmage will feature all current Huskers, including freshmen and transfer athletes, as well as some former Huskers.
On Sunday, the Huskers host South Dakota for a 1 p.m. doubleheader. Over the following two weekends, Nebraska will face Colorado State, UNO, Butler Community College and Bellevue University to conclude its fall season.
All scrimmages and games have free admission.
Reach Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.