LINCOLN -- The craziness, and awesomeness, that is Big Ten Conference volleyball included these two things during the first week of the conference season:
Unranked Michigan State beat both the No. 1 and No. 5 teams in the country, each of which was undefeated at the time, on their home courts.
And then-No. 14 Nebraska won in a three-set sweep at Penn State, which was ranked No. 2, marking the first time in 14 years Penn State had been swept at home.
What will the second week of the Big Ten season hold? That’s hard to predict, but Nebraska will probably be a big part of the conversation in the league this week because the Huskers play two top-10 teams. Nebraska, which after a 2-0 start to the conference season moved up to No. 8 in the AVCA poll, will take on No. 3 Minnesota and No. 7 Wisconsin.
Friday’s match against Minnesota has an early 5 p.m. start to allow fans to watch the Nebraska-Illinois football game later that evening. The program will also retire the jersey of former Husker All-American Jordan Larson.
On Saturday, Nebraska will play Wisconsin at 7 p.m.
Nebraska coach John Cook doesn’t expect the matches against Minnesota and Wisconsin to be any easier just because those teams each lost last week.
“I’ve been telling you guys it’s a tough conference,” Cook said. “In the preseason I thought there might be seven teams that could win the Big Ten title, and you just saw what I was talking about. I don’t think there is going to be any surprises in this conference. It’s going to be nine more weeks of just wild, wild matches.”
Seven Big Ten teams are ranked in the Top 25, including Michigan State at No. 16.
Minnesota (12-1, 1-1 Big Ten) was ranked No. 1 in the country for three weeks. Minnesota junior setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson was a first-team All-American last year, and averages 12.2 assists per set. Right-side hitter Stephanie Samedy is one of the best freshmen in the nation, averaging 4.38 kills per set to lead the Big Ten.
Cook said the Gophers will try to run their attack just like they usually do, which means fast.
“They really try to go fast and beat you with speed,” Cook said.
Wisconsin (10-1, 1-1 Big Ten) won nine straight matches to open the season before dropping its Big Ten opener at home against Michigan State in five sets.
The Badgers no longer have All-American setter Lauren Carlini, but still have an impressive lineup, including a 6-foot-8 freshman middle blocker. That player, Dana Rettke from Riverside, Illinois, leads the Badgers with 3.33 kills and 1.61 blocks per set, and has a .453 hitting percentage.
“I think (Rettke is) really good,” said Nebraska assistant coach Tyler Hildebrand, who coordinates the Huskers’ blocking defense. “I think she could be national team middle. I think she’s got some skill sets that are special for her size. She moves pretty well for being that tall, and she’s got a pretty good arm. Sometimes when you’re that big, you don’t have a great arm, and you don’t hit the ball very hard, but I think she’s really good, and we’re going to do our best to try and slow her down.”
Middle blocker Tionna Williams was a third-team All-American last year. Wisconsin also has an explosive outside hitter in senior Kelli Bates.
In the Huskers’ 3-0 win against Penn State, Cook said the Huskers played really consistent, and were good at the end of sets. Nebraska had 59 kills, which was 21 more than Penn State and an impressive total for a three-set match.
Was Cook surprised to sweep Penn State?
“A little bit, yeah, but in this conference, nothing surprises me, really,” he said.
A video posted on social media by the Nebraska athletic department showed the scene in the locker room moments after the Huskers beat Penn State. Cook gave a fist bump to Briana Holman, who had a severely sprained ankle in the days leading up to the match. Cook was emotional, telling the players they had shocked the world.
Why was Cook so emotional?
“That was a big win. It’s an emotional game,” Cook said this week. “We talk about the feeling when your team plays really well, and you get a great result because of that, that’s what we’re all chasing every week.”