LINCOLN -- Three weeks are left for the college volleyball teams trying to win the Big Ten Conference championship.
Nebraska has won seven straight matches, and with six matches to go in the conference season is tied with Penn State for first place in the Big Ten standings with a 13-1 conference record.
Nebraska’s schedule is easier than it was at the beginning of the conference season, but coach John Cook isn’t using the chance to win the Big Ten championship as the only motivator for the players right now.
“This team has done a great job of staying in the moment, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Cook said. “You can’t start looking too far ahead. There is still a lot of volleyball left to be played.”
Nebraska won the Big Ten championship last season. And while that’s the goal again this year, it hasn’t been as big of a focus as it was last season. That's because last year it was a veteran team that had won a national championship, but had yet to win a conference title while at Nebraska.
“It’s written on our marker board that we want to win the Big Ten, and go to the (NCAA Tournament) Final Four, so that’s stuff we’ve talked about,” said senior setter Kelly Hunter. “But I think more so this year we’re focused on the process, rather than the outcome.”
This week, Nebraska hosts Maryland on Wednesday and Rutgers on Sunday. As of now Nebraska won’t have to play a ranked opponent for the rest of the conference season.
But Cook will remind the players of the upset wins that unranked teams have already pulled off this Big Ten season. In the past two weeks, Maryland upset then-No. 17 Purdue, and Ohio State beat No. 8 Wisconsin.
“This conference is crazy, so we’re just staying in the moment right now. That’s all we can do,” Cook said.
At the end of the season, if multiple teams are tied for first place in the Big Ten there would be co-champions, instead of using a tiebreaker. The last time there were co-champions was in 1997, with Penn State and Wisconsin, the team Cook coached at the time.
Even though Nebraska won’t be preparing to play top-10 teams, Cook said they’ll continue to challenge the team each day with goals for serving better, passing better and getting kills on out-of-system plays.
“They’ll be a theme in the next two days of what we’re going to work to get better on, and we do it in practice, and we don’t leave until it gets done,” Cook said.
Atherton plays as serving sub: Hunter Atherton, a redshirt freshman and the backup setter, played as a serving substitue last week, playing in the spot where Hayley Densberger has been.
In a win against Indiana, Atherton had two ace serves and several long serving runs.
“We can’t pass her serves either,” said Cook of Atherton. “They’re really hard to pass. It’s deep and it’s moving and it’s all over the place. She doesn’t know where it’s going, and the passer doesn’t know where it’s going. Hunter was a hitter in high school, so she has a great arm. She gets a really great contact on it, and that thing really moves.”
Her serve can be a challenge to handle because not many people serve like she does, from well behind the end line. That means the ball can move more while in the air, and make it hard to pass.
“Sometimes we call that a tempo-two space shuttle,” Cook said. “It’s coming from so far. It’s different from a lot of other servers.”
Atherton and Densberger will compete in practice to see who is the serving sub in each match. For Atherton, she’ll need to cut down on her serving errors.
“Hunter missed seven serves this weekend, but pretty much every ball she got in they couldn’t pass,” Cook said.
Huskers on pace for great NCAA Tournament seed: Last week, the NCAA Tournament selection committee released the teams that had earned top-10 national seeds based on results to that point, and Nebraska was ranked No. 2.
Penn State was in the No. 1 spot. Minnesota was No. 3, and Stanford was No. 4.
But there are still three more weeks of matches that will determine the NCAA Tournament field, and the top-16 overall seeds.
In the new AVCA poll released on Monday, Nebraska (20-4) moved up one spot to No. 6. Creighton (20-5) is No. 14.
Recruits make All-American teams: Three of the Huskers’ recruits that are high school seniors have earned high school All-American honors from Under Armour.
Nebraska recruits earning first-team honors were outside hitter Capri Davis from Mansfield, Texas, and setter Nicklin Hames from Knoxville, Tennessee. Nebraska defensive specialist recruit Megan Miller from Alexandria, Indiana, earned honorable mention honors.
Nebraska is expected to sign and announce its 2018 recruiting class on Wednesday.