It just doesn’t seem to get any easier for the Wisconsin volleyball team.
After coming off a two-weekend road trip that included upset wins over ranked teams in Ohio State and Michigan, Wisconsin will face another ranked opponent this weekend.
As as far as cliches go, you have to beat the best to be the best, and that is exactly what Wisconsin (11-7, 3-3) will try to do when it takes on No. 5 Nebraska (13-1, 6-0) in the Field House Friday night.
Nebraska is enjoying a fine inaugural season in the Big Ten this year with a perfect conference record through six matches. With its only loss of the season coming to then No. 15 Colorado State in the beginning of September, the Huskers have already beaten five top 25 opponents.
Wisconsin will see a terrific player Friday in Nebraska’s outside hitter Brooke Delano. The senior from Bellevue, Neb., was named a 2010 First-Team AVCA All-American for her outstanding performance for the Cornhuskers last season. The 6-foot-4 Delano is currently ranked eighth in the conference in hitting percentage (.350), a big part of why Nebraska is the second most effective team in the Big Ten with a hitting percentage (.274) that trails only Michigan State.
For Wisconsin head coach Pete Waite, this match is just as special as every other match the Badgers have played thus far.
“We don’t look at the numbers [beside] their name; we just focus on playing the best we can play,” Waite said. “We make sure we’re improving. We’ve said since the preseason that we were focusing on progress. We’ve had some nice wins, but we don’t get any momentum for this game because of those wins last week. We just have to play hard, and if we play anything like we did then, we have a chance to win.”
Another unique feature of the Wisconsin-Nebraska match will be the return of a very familiar face to the Field House.
Current Nebraska head coach and former Wisconsin head coach Bob Cook makes his first return to Madison since leaving the Badgers 13 years ago. At the helm for Nebraska, Cook has compiled the nation’s best record since taking over the program at 336-29. Over this run, Cook’s team have won a pair of national titles, earned five NCAA semifinal appearances and nine Big 12 titles.
Cook left Wisconsin in 1999 for the assistant coach position at Nebraska. During his tenure from 1992-1998, Cook led the Badgers to a 161-73 record including a share of the Big Ten title in 1997.
“He did a nice job here and took the program to the highest level it had ever been,” Waite said. “He increased attendance and left me some really good players so I appreciate that. He’s done great things at Nebraska and it’s just another game in Big Ten play; we’re about to see another great team across the net.”
Wisconsin will also hope to avoid a letdown after the much-hyped matchup Friday when it faces Iowa (11-8, 1-5) Sunday afternoon.
While Iowa has the lowest hitting percentage (.182) in the conference and lead the Big Ten in errors (399), the Hawkeyes still contain some dangerous players.
One of the lone bright spots for the Hawkeyes this season has been sophomore Nikki Dailey. The young setter from Franklin, Wis., currently ranks in the conference top 10 for assists (685) and service aces (26).
Preparing for this next slate of matches, the Badgers are focusing on a fundamental they’ve emphasized all season: mental toughness.
“We just can’t ever doubt our abilities,” senior Janelle Gabrielsen said. “We’re a great team and if we believe that, we’ll have that mental toughness this weekend. We’re excited for Nebraska to be here, and we’re excited to show our fans we can beat this team.”
“When we beat Michigan, we were really mentally tough,” junior Alexis Mitchell said. “In our loss to Michigan State last weekend, we weren’t at that same level. We’re going to get smashed Friday if we aren’t focused.”
“We really need to be mentally tough because [Nebraska has] a lot of weapons and capabilities, but we do too. They’re undefeated right now in the Big Ten, but we definitely could give them their first loss.”