LINCOLN — John Cook hasn’t forgotten what happened when Nebraska faced Stanford last season in the national championship match.
“I have it ingrained in my head last year what happened against Stanford,” Cook said. “I know what we have to do.”
The Huskers (7-0), who just moved into the top spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll on Monday, will face their toughest challenge of the young season when they host No. 2 Stanford (5-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in a match that can be seen on BTN.
Three points made the difference when the two teams met in Minneapolis last year. Two of those points came in the deciding set won by Stanford 15-12.
“I’ve talked to them all year long that it was three plays that made the difference,” Cook said. “And two of them were cardinal errors that we preach in our gym should never happen. So they’ve heard that. That haunts me. It’s motivated me to do a better job coaching so if we’re in that position again we’re going to make those plays and not let those things happen.”
It’s been such a motivating factor for the Huskers that they even put it on team t-shirts.
“We always talk about those three points,” setter Nicklin Hames said. “It’s been a huge part of this team as well because we’re going to be motivated. We don’t want to lose by three points again and we want to be three points better.
“I think there is that revenge factor there, but we can’t let it affect us too much because that’s when you get going and have too much adrenaline. We just need to control that a little bit.”
Outside hitter Lexi Sun also played in that national championship match. She remembers too.
“They’re huge. Those three points were the difference between a national championship and none,” Sun said. “That’s been our motivation all summer and in the preseason.”
Stanford was rated No. 1 until a loss to then-No. 8 Minnesota Saturday night as part of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge hosted by Penn State. The Cardinal defeated the Nittany Lions 3-1 the night before.
Stanford is led by two-time AVCA Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer. Two-time first-team All-Americans Jenna Gray and Morgan Hentz are also back along with Audriana Fitzmorris, a two-time second-team pick.
The Stanford seniors have been a part of two NCAA championship teams. The Cardinal won in 2016, then was upset by Florida in a semifinal in 2017. The Huskers won the title that year with a 3-1 win over the Gators in the final match in Kansas City.
The Huskers are 6-9 against Stanford all time while Cook is 4-3 during his coaching career at Nebraska. That includes a 3-1 victory over the Cardinal in the 2006 NCAA championship match in Omaha.
Stanford swept the Huskers in the 2001 national semifinals with Logan Tom leading the way.
While Stanford is loaded with talent and experience, the Huskers are breaking in some new players after losing first-team All-American outside hitter Mikaela Foecke along with second-team All-American libero Kenzie Maloney a year ago.
Freshmen Madi Kubik is playing at outside hitter while fellow freshman Kenzie Knuckles won the libero job.
“We have a different team,” Cook said. “Their team is pretty much the same except for one player. So I’m just looking forward to the opportunity for our team to get to play against them for us to see where we’re at and how hard we have to compete and how clean of volleyball we have to play.”
Hames said she will tell the younger players to just play how they play in practice and not even think about the opponent.
“That’s good enough and that’s the Nebraska volleyball way,” she said. “Just kind of talking to them and telling them a volleyball game is a volleyball game. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. We just have to go out there and play our best.”
Rightside hitter Jazz Sweet is ready, and she has been for quite some time. She remembers the disappointment of losing the national championship match while Stanford was celebrating its title.
A picture in the player’s lounge is there to remind them every day.
“(It) really created a monster that’s grown inside of us that we are ready to unleash in the next couple of months,” Sweet said at the team’s media day in August. “We’ve seen pictures of it over and over for the past eight months, and so we are ready to get back out there.”