Nebraska volleyball to offer top competition for Lions

By Jocelyn Syrstad

One team may not seem to make much of a difference when added to a conference, but the Penn State women’s volleyball team thinks otherwise about its newest foe.

With Nebraska starting Big Ten play in the 2011 season, the Nittany Lions will be challenged by one of the biggest volleyball powers in the country.

The Cornhuskers were the last team to win a National Championship before Penn State started its back-to-back-to-back run from 2007-2009. Since 2000, Nebraska has made a total of four Final Fours, taking the title twice, and finishing as the runner-up once.

“They’re one of the most successful programs of all time in college volleyball,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “They are one of the top programs in the country. Nebraska’s been good for 40 years. They have three national championships and they’re always going to be relevant in the national championship picture.”

The Lions are familiar with their soon-to-be conference rivals as well; the two teams faced off in the semi-finals in 2008. Though Penn State won the match on their way to their second-consecutive title and first undefeated season, Nebraska didn’t go down without a fight.

The Cornhuskers were the only team to take the Lions to five sets that season, coming back after being down 2-0 to force the decisive final set.

Senior defensive specialist Cathy Quilico said the competitiveness that the Cornhuskers bring to the table will provide the Big Ten with valuable competition that will better prepare its teams for postseason play and make the conference season more interesting.

“Absolutely they will be a good addition,” she said. “As far as the competition goes, I think it will be a really good thing for the Big Ten. It will make us work harder within our conference, which is always good. I think it will be good, but terrifying at the same time since they are such a great program.”

Talent and competitive drive are the least of the Big Ten’s worries when it comes to Nebraska, however. Nebraska coach John Cook is no stranger to Big Ten volleyball, serving as the head coach at Wisconsin for seven seasons from 1992-1998.

With the Badgers, he led the team to six straight postseason appearances. After making the move to Nebraska, Cook has put up a record of 281-19 through nine seasons, won two national championships and has headed the winningest program in the nation during his tenure.

“He’s more aware of the Big Ten than any of us are aware of the Big 12,” Rose said of Cook. “He knows what the transition will entail. They’re going to hit the ground running. They come in as one of the top teams every year, and no matter what conference they enter you know they’re going to enter near the top of the standings.”

Rose said the Cornhuskers would be a good fit for the Big Ten based on their competitiveness, physicality, strong fan base and knowledge of the conference.

With those aspects in mind, Rose is well aware that the arrival of Nebraska in 2011 isn’t going to be a quiet one.

“Nebraska has had all the factors to make them a successful team,” Rose said. “They’re going to be a factor here, and once they join the conference everyone else is going to know they’re here.”

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