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Official Husker Locker Blog

2009 Aug 12

VB: Huskers' New Style 'Fast' and Furious

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By HuskerLocker

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Kia Kaha. Among the Maori in New Zealand, it means “forever strong.”

That’s the motto of Nebraska’s 2009 volleyball team, head coach John Cook announced Wednesday, a squad that will be one of his youngest – as many as five freshmen may contend for playing time – and almost certainly his most athletic.

“We’ve always been coined as the ‘big girls,’” Cook said. “Slow, big, dominant at the net. This is going to be a different feel. This is going to be a team that plays fast.”

How fast? Cook described the first handful of fall practices as volleyball played at “hyperspeed” with “ESPN-highlight plays” made by a multitude of Huskers already. He likened NU’s new style to men’s volleyball, and the Brazil women’s national team.

“We need to make this gym bigger because they can get to wherever that ball is,” Cook said.

Cook also said his players could stand toe-to-toe with Nebraska’s football team athletically.

Eight Huskers were in the “2000-point club” for their scores on four performance drills – 10-yard dash, vertical jump, pro agility run and approach jump. Last year at this time, Cook said, there weren’t any players at that mark.

Safe to say that some of those five freshmen – Paige Hubl, Gina Mancuso, Megan Pendergast, Hayley Thramer and Hannah Werth – were part of that list. Cook called them “gym rats.” None were late for a workout or a meeting this summer.

“This freshman class is legit,” Cook said. “…The game of volleyball doesn’t know how old you are.”

Two of NU’s better teams – in 2000 and 2005 – used freshmen as a key part of their runs. The catalyst in 2000, Laura Pilakowski, is now Nebraska’s strength and conditioning guru. In 2005, the boost was provided by Jordan Larson.

“All of them,” answered senior middle blocker Kori Cooper when asked which freshmen could play a role in 2009. All-American outside hitter Tara Mueller – NU’s best returning offensive weapon – said it will be a matter of which of them make plays during fall camp and finds the best rhythm.

One of them is likely to be Hannah Werth, the Springfield, Ill., native who enrolled last spring and got plenty of swings during NU’s spring exhibition season. Werth had one of the team’s highest vertical jumps and broke the school record for the 10-yard dash at 1.57 seconds.

Werth, one of the most highly touted outside hitter recruits in recent memory, already knows the expectations of knowledgeable Husker fans.

“That’s why I came to Nebraska,” Werth said. “Because of how high the expectations are. I’ve always been surrounded by great players, so knowing I have to live up to those expectations? It’s a great feeling.”

Werth will initially back up Mueller, a junior from Scottsdale, Ariz., whom Cook said became a “great leader” over the summer with junior libero Kayla Banwarth, setter Sydney Anderson and senior middle blocker Kori Cooper. Mueller will have to fill some of the leadership gap left behind by Larson, Amanda Gates and Rachel Schwartz, the catalysts behind that thrilling 2008 run.

Their defense - and Larson’s vicious jump serve – will be tough to replace as well, although Mueller is confident Nebraska was on its way.

“We don’t have that solid jump server out there,” Mueller said. “But we have a bunch of tough float serves. And we push each other in practice. We’re really low in errors so far. We have not missed that many. Our serving is already at a high level.”

Avoiding errors in this faster offense, Cook said, would be crucial in 2009.

“How close to the wall can we go into the turn without hitting the wall?” he said.

Much of the responsibility will fall on Anderson, the calm junior setter who stepped into a dicey situation last year and earned an All-America spot. Anderson worked through the summer getting used to shorter, quicker outside hitters in an effort to produce a fast-set, fast-kill offense like Penn State, which tore through every team not named Nebraska in 2008.

“It just takes time,” she said. “It’s not gonna come in one day. It’ll happen over time….I don’t think we looked at (Penn State) and said ‘we wanna be like them,’ but it’s a great offense and if we can run it be successful at it, then that will help us in the long run.”

Tags: john cook, volleyball, tara mueller, sydney anderson, hannah werth, kori cooper

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Home > Blogs > Official Husker Locker Blog > VB: Huskers' New Style 'Fast' and Furious