LINCOLN — It probably doesn’t get much bigger than No. 1 Nebraska facing No. 5 Wisconsin on the road, in the middle of the grind of the Big Ten volleyball schedule.
But something will have to give.
Nebraska enters Wednesday’s match on an 11-game winning streak and the Badgers have a home-court advantage at the Wisconsin Field House similar to what the Huskers have at the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Not to mention, Wisconsin is fresh off winning a national title in 2021 and three straight Big Ten titles.
The Huskers may be atop the college volleyball world at the moment, but head coach John Cook said on Tuesday his team will have to earn it against UW.
Nebraska enters the match atop the Big Ten standings.
“They’re always in the hunt,” Cook said. “So, right now we have to go on the hunt here. We’re not protecting anything. So again, it’s a great challenge for us and this is what you got to do in the Big Ten if you want to be in the hunt for a Big Ten championship.
“We gotta go find a way to win. We prepare like we do for every road match and you know, same message, trust your training, play with each other for each other.”
After traveling to Madison on Wednesday, Nebraska closes out the regular season with six of the nine final matches at home. NU’s only three remaining road matches are at Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State.
Nebraska is coming off a long stretch of matches on the road, playing six of the past eight away from Devaney.
Having coached Wisconsin for seven seasons before taking the Nebraska job in 2000, Cook remembers well the 1930s-vintage Wisconsin Field House and how tough it is to play there.
“Every place in the Big Ten is tough when they get 7,000 fans,” he said. “But it’s fun, our players thrive on that. We’re just used to it.”
Outside hitter Madi Kubik, who called the Wisconsin venue a “dungeon,” said the Huskers have been good at maintaining their focus on the task at hand, despite the recent ascent to the top of the college volleyball rankings.
“I think our team does a really great job of just taking things one point at a time, one game at a time,” she said.
“And I think for tomorrow’s match, we’re really excited for the opportunity to go and compete there and we haven’t seen them yet obviously in the Big Ten season, so yeah, we’re super excited.”
Cook was asked about the keys to Nebraska’s current winning streak.
“I just think we’re playing really good defense,” he said. “And our serve-blocking defense allows to put pressure on teams, and if we can side-out enough while we’re putting pressure on them, then it gives us a chance to win those matches 3-0.
“Our players have done a great job of doing that for the entire match. They’ve got a great mindset of just playing the next point and trying to play at our level that we know we can play at.”
Kubik said Nebraska’s practice habits have been one of the main reasons for the recent successes on the road.
“I think we’ve done a really good job of being on the road for a really long time just coming in and being really intentional and efficient with our practices,” she said.
“And I think that’s what you have to do in those situations because it would be really easy to come into practice and kind of slack off and be like we’re on the road again. So, I’ve been really impressed with our team and our commitment to that.”
Wisconsin returns a number of key players from the 2021 national championship team.
That includes Final Four most valuable player, 6-foot-9 middle blocker Anna Smrek, as well as middle blocker Devyn Robinson. The Badgers also added Michigan State transfer Sarah Franklin to the roster.
“They’re still a great team and they still got a ton of talent and completely different system now,” Cook said. “Every year is a new adventure and teams change and we’re completely different than we were last year. And so that’s what’s makes sports exciting and (we’ll) see how this shakes out. On paper, stat-wise and everything it should be great match.”