Saturday morning, the Nebraska volleyball team will leave on a 2½-week trip to Japan and China.
College sports teams are allowed to take overseas trips every four years, and several other college volleyball teams already have done so this spring or summer.
Kentucky and Ohio State went to Brazil, while Iowa State was in Argentina and Peru. The Wisconsin team is in Europe and will visit Prague, Vienna, Slovenia and Italy. Texas Tech was in Italy, where it watched the United States national team play in the FIVB Volleyball Nations League. Minnesota went to Japan during spring break.
Kentucky coach Craig Skinner, a former assistant coach for Nebraska’s John Cook, has gone difference places, taking past teams to China and Europe. But Cook has taken the Huskers to Asia each time.
He is sold on the challenges the trip provides for the players, the taste it gives those who will play pro volleyball, and the high-level matches they’ll play.
“(In) Brazil, it’s really hard to get good teams to play, and it’s not safe,” Cook said. “If you ask anybody who has been down there, it’s not safe. So I don’t want to deal with that. Second of all, Europe, it’s more of a vacation. … For us it would be like going to California, for our players. Or New York, or something.
“Asia is about as far out of their comfort zone as they can get with food, accommodations. … The main thing is, those Asian teams want to win, and they don’t want to lose to us and they’re in full-time training mode all year round.”
The volleyball is so good, and intense, that Cook remembers it not sitting well in 2014 when Nebraska won a match by winning the fifth set 15-13.
“We somehow lucked out in front of about 3,000 people, on TV,” Cook said. “We got our stuff and started leaving, and they started practicing. And I have no idea how long they stayed there for, but it was not a good situation for that team.”
Cook also admires the respect people in China and Japan have for volleyball.
“It’s like (Nebraska), it’s special,” Cook said. “The gyms are immaculate. It’s just a really cool culture to be around.”
That 2014 trip was the last time the Huskers visited Asia. Nebraska was eligible to go again last summer but didn't. That means that Mikaela Foecke and Kenzie Maloney never got to go on an overseas trip.
But Cook was looking to this year, when new rules mean that freshmen who just arrived on campus in May or June are eligible to go. So Nebraska will take six freshmen, including Nicole Drewnick, who graduated from high school a year early and practiced for the first time June 7. Nebraska doesn’t have any seniors on the roster.
“This group is together for the next two years, so this is a great opportunity timing-wise for our program to go this year,” Cook said.
Nebraska is scheduled to play seven matches and will play several of the top pro teams.
The Huskers may not win a lot, but they’ll be better for it when the 2019 season begins.
“In 2000, we didn’t win a match, in 2006, we didn’t win a match, and both of those teams won national championships,” Cook said. “In 2010, we won our first match over there, and in 2014, we actually won two matches. So we’ve gotten better, and closer to these Asian teams.”
There will be time for fun. The team will take an overnight train to Tianjin and visit the Great Wall.
In Beijing, the Huskers will spend time at Silk Street, one of the largest shopping centers in the world.
“You can go and negotiate what you want to pay, so it’s wild, and the players love it,” Cook said.