Nebraska kicks off the Big Ten schedule with a road trip to Illinois this weekend.
The No. 3 Huskers (8-1) play at Illinois (5-4) at 7 p.m. Friday and then face Northwestern (9-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Illinois match can be seen live on BTN.
The Huskers hold a 26-8-1 advantage all time over Illinois. Last year the Husker won in Champaign, but Illinois came to Lincoln later in the season and won at the Devaney Center.
The two teams squared off in an NCAA semifinal match in Minneapolis in December. Illinois led that match 2-0, but the Huskers rallied for a 3-2 victory.
The Huskers may be without outside hitter Capri Davis again. Davis was playing well earlier in the season, but an injury forced her to the sidelines.
“We’ll have to see how she does this week,” coach John Cook said earlier this week. “She can be a game changer, but she has to show up every day.”
If Davis can’t play, freshman Madi Kubik will continue playing in her spot. Kubik was mostly a back-row player when Davis was healthy, but started playing all six rotations after Davis was injured.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Kubik said. “It’s exciting to have these teammates and trust they have your back no matter how you play and whatever is going on in the game you can always look at each other and feel like things are going to be OK.”
Kubik, who is from West Des Moines, Iowa, led the Huskers in their loss to Stanford on Sept. 18 with 14 kills. She said she didn’t know she would be playing all six rotations this early in her career.
“I didn’t really have any idea,” Kubik said. “I was really excited to have the opportunity to compete for that spot. But it’s just every day in the gym, just competing.”
Now Kubik and classmate libero Kenzie Knuckles will get their first taste of Big Ten Conference play.
“It’s really good,” Cook said of the Big Ten. “A lot of Big Ten teams played a really tough non-conference schedule. Everybody is trying to prepare for what starts now. Now you have to do it at home and on the road. The Big Ten, everything changes and there are a lot of good teams. You have to bring it every night.”
Cook has always been big on routine. He likes it when he and his team can stick to a routine day in and day out. That’s what happens when the conference season starts.
“A fun part for me is the routine,” Cook said. “We know whether it’s a Wednesday-Saturday or a Friday-Saturday, we have a routine. I like that. For me it’s great. I know how we prepare. When you’re playing three matches in a weekend that throws it off.
“I like it. I enjoy being in a routine.”
Cook said he thinks the players likes being in a routine as well.
“I think they all really crave that,” Cook said. “You just kind of know each week, here’s our plan for this week. Next week it will be a little bit different, but we’ve done it enough to know how the routine goes. They like routine.”
Cook has a different routine for Friday-Saturday matches than he does for Wednesday-Saturday dates.
This year in 10 weekends of Big Ten play, the Huskers have four Friday-Saturday weekends, four Wednesday-Saturday weeks and two Friday-Sunday weekends.
“I think I prefer Wednesday-Saturday because I think it’s easier on the athletes,” Cook said. “I mean what other sport is playing back-to-back on the road? We’re the only sport doing that.”