Every year the president addresses a joint session of Congress to discuss the state of our Union, and every year members of Congress are allowed to bring one guest. These guests come from a variety of places — some are congressional spouses, others are friends, and some are invited because they symbolize the best of our country. This year, I had the honor of inviting someone who represents everything that is great about the state of Nebraska, coach John Cook from the national champion University of Nebraska volleyball team.
This past December, coach Cook led our Nebraska Cornhuskers to its fifth national championship. The second title in three years. During the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska played remarkably well, winning 18 sets as they went on to win the title. Since 2000, coach Cook has led the Huskers to four national championships, five finals appearances, eight Final Four appearances, 12 conference titles, and 16 top-10 final rankings. He has created a foundation of winning and a tradition of excellence, both on and off the court.
The entire team contributed to this year's championship. Although I could only invite coach Cook to the Capitol, I want to acknowledge their outstanding effort, as well: Annika Albrecht, Mikaela Foecke, Hunter Atherton, Hayley Densberger, Allie Havers, Briana Holman, Kenzie Maloney, Kelly Hunter, Chesney McClellan, Sami Slaughter, Lauren Stivrins, Jazz Sweet, Anezka Szabo and Sydney Townsend all had their hard work pay off and worked together to win a championship.
At his American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame induction speech, coach Cook told younger coaches that the most important thing a successful coach can do is be surrounded by great assistants. This year, the Nebraska coaching staff proved the importance of that philosophy. They worked hard, helped train our athletes and strategized this championship run. Assistant coaches Tyler Hildebrand and Kayla Banwarth, along with volunteer assistant coach Ryan Coomes, director of operations Lindsay Peterson, video coordinator Kelly O’Connor and graduate managers Joe Klein, John Henry and Bre Mackie all helped our team succeed.
At the beginning of the year, the team adopted the slogan, "With each other, for each other," and they lived it out over this season. Together, as a team, that spirit guided this outstanding group of women to another national championship. They've made Nebraska proud and have ignited a growing fan base. Nebraska's volleyball team now has a huge following that packs an 8,000-person arena every game — one of the strongest and loudest home courts in the entire NCAA.
The players work as hard in the classroom as they do on their volleyball skills. For example, every year at the Final Four banquet, players are honored for academic excellence. This year, Sydney Townsend, a senior defensive specialist, earned the 2017 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Elite 90 award given to the "student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the finals site for each of the NCAA's championships." She received this award over players from Stanford, Penn State and Florida.
The Husker team won this national championship the Nebraska way — with hard work, sportsmanship and determination. They have made all of us proud. I congratulate them on their victory and know that they will be great role models for girls and athletes everywhere. Great job!