Nebraska head coach John Cook and top players Kenzi Knuckles and Madi Kubik discuss the Nebraska volleyball schedule,
during the Big Ten Volleyball Media Days event on Monday, August 1, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois at the Big Ten Network.
COACH COOK: First of all, about a month ago, Grace called me from the Big Ten. She said what do you think about this idea. And I just said it's great. Can you pull it off? And obviously she pulled it off.
Thank you to Big Ten for doing this. Incredible experience for the student-athletes. It's a great statement for our sport. One of my hopes and wishes from all this is this is now going to spread to other conferences and continue to validate the growth of volleyball in this country and how big it is and the Big Ten is certainly leading the way in setting the example.
So, again, a big thank you to the Big Ten. And I also want to thank the Nebraska media for coming all the way out here. And I know we're very well represented. And, again, I think it's making a major statement about the importance of volleyball in the state of Nebraska and what this means to everybody who follows us.
Q. Kayla entered the transfer portal last week. How does that impact what you're going to do this season and your plans for the middle block position?
COACH COOK: We still have, last I checked, we still have three middle blockers. They'll compete just like they were going to compete before.
And I think I should probably just clarify how all this went because this is a very unusual situation. I've read some of the things that have been written. Everybody thinks they know what's going on. I'll just elaborate a little bit on what unfolded.
In November I asked Kayla do you want to come back for your super senior year? And she said yes. And I want to get a second master's. She finished the season. Started in the spring. And our compliance people went through months and weeks of work to get her a seventh year. It was not a done deal. It was very complicated. They worked very hard to get that passed.
They also hit us with a year penalty if she was going to play at Nebraska that we could take this year or next year. So we continued to have discussions. I double checked with Kayla -- are you sure you want to do this because it cost us a lot. And we were fully committed to two scholarships to her over two years for her to play her super senior year.
And I only asked two things from her on that. One is to be a super senior, meaning to set an example, be a role model. And two, I asked her why she wanted to come back and she said I want to help us win a national championship; we were so close.
Well, so things continued to unfold. We made a couple of appeals. Some things changed. But by May it was all worked out and the ball was in her court. As far as I knew she was coming back. I was awaiting for her to do her announcements, which all these transfers do, because I think -- it's like going through recruiting again. We were waiting for that. It never happened.
Last week she said she was done. That's about all I know. But it's made me think a lot about a lot of things. And I'll tell you, first of all, I learned about super seniors. There's only two reasons they should come back. One, to finish unfinished business; and, two, to get a master's degree. And she already has a master's degree. And I think once she lost that motivation to get that second degree, I think they lose their way on why they're at a university. And at that point it's probably time to go play pro if you want to go play pro.
The other thing that really has made me realize is what NIL has done to college sports and these athletes because now you see who is transferring and who is leaving. And I could go through several examples. It's all about where can I get the next best deal.
And this has infiltrated college sports. And it's a sad deal. And so it just takes me back to a scene in the movie about the 1980 U.S. hockey team when their coach asked them, are you playing for the team on -- the name on the front of your jersey or are you playing for the name on the back of your jersey.
All I know is at Nebraska volleyball I want kids we're going to recruit kids that want to play for Nebraska and that's what they're here for and that's what they want. If there's things that come along with that, with NIL and other opportunities, great. But that's the most important thing. I hope I've got a group of kids -- we start next Tuesday -- that they're playing for the name on the front of their jersey.
Q. I think Kayla made an Instagram post saying the coach said she would not have a scholarship available this fall?
COACH COOK: I just told you we were fully committed to her financial situation for two years. She had everything covered.
Q. I understand when you said you were under penalty, she would count double scholarship or --
COACH COOK: That is correct.
Q. She would count for -- if she would have come back she would have counted as two scholarship players?
COACH COOK: That's correct.
Q. In the future you would lose a scholarship for four years?
COACH COOK: No, just for one year, one year penalty. Now, if you want to go into why that happened, we don't have enough time today. But that's an NCAA rule. They basically hit us with that because she's a very unusual situation, and it really penalized her to get her master's is what happened. She should never have graduated with her master's in January, which was originally her plan when she came to Nebraska. That really messed things up. It would have been better to tell her, don't -- but we didn't know at the time, because it goes through a process and it happened in the spring.
Q. Madi, you guys were obviously so close, and Kenzie the same thing, question for you both, where you left (indiscernible) that night in December through now and I assume you're particularly motivated?
MADI KUBIK: Yeah, absolutely. I think throughout a season we worked so hard to be able to play that late into December. We talk about putting ourselves in a position to be successful at that time of the year.
And as far as last year goes, it was very heartbreaking to get to that point and not to walk away winning a championship. But we have to look at this season as a fresh start and new year and a new group. And we're really excited for the opportunity for this group and these people to work hard to hopefully put ourselves back into a place where we can win a national championship in Omaha.
KENZIE KNUCKLES: I agree 100 percent. It was really tough for us to lose in the national championship last year. And I think that we bounce back pretty well. We have a group of girls that work really hard and are really dedicated to the season and what we want to achieve. And so we put in the work this summer and we're really excited for the season to start.
Q. Kenzie, you got the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team Award, also been named captain and a team leader by your coach throughout your time here. You've also switched positions. What's it like being given so much responsibility on that front to show all now your remaining team members from last year but all the new transfers and freshmen coming in?
KENZIE KNUCKLES: Absolutely. I think everybody is different, but for me, something that helps me a lot is focusing on other people rather than myself, especially in the game of volleyball because you can internalize a bunch of stuff and being given the role to kind of be an emotional leader on the team and just really try to help others out and just lead the path to that direction.
That helped me and helped my play a lot, especially with the change in position, I absolutely loved it. I love being able to hit. So that's been really awesome. And overall, just getting the team where they need to be emotionally and making sure that we're on the right path to succeed.
Q. Freshmen, last year you committed to freshmen and it paid off, likely to have some more this year. What are your thoughts about how ready they come out of high school and club? Was there a time that changed where you said, wow, these kids are ready?
COACH COOK: Most definitely. 15 years ago we were always, we're going to redshirt. We wanted to redshirt every freshman. I just think with the level of club volleyball and a lot of these guys get opportunities with U.S.A., to play on those U.S.A. teams, they come in ready to compete.
Of course, it takes a mindset and they've got to get through the adjustment to college. You never know how that's going to go. Everybody's a little bit different. But skill-wise on the court, they come in much more prepared than they used to.
Q. (Indiscernible) just picking up right after your club season, wasn't it? Seemed like it.
KENZIE KNUCKLES: Yeah, I graduated early and that was really beneficial for me. I probably wouldn't have picked up as well as I did if I hadn't have graduated early. But I would say I did not play my last season of club but my high school was really good at making sure we were on the right start to getting into college.
Q. Coach Cook, you were talking about that transition into college.
One of the big talking points not just this summer but recent summers but it's becoming more prominent is not having time in the summer to work with players and get the players adjusted before fall camp. What are your thoughts about that push to make a change to get players on campus, to work with each other, build that team earlier? Whoever wants to start.
COACH COOK: That's what I was saying, I'm hoping this event today will prompt -- that whole thing is about money. It's about Division II and Division III not having those opportunities, and some Division I that don't want to pay for their players to come in in the summer. All Big Ten schools, all the players are already here.
The fact you've got 100 football players that get to work with football coaches and 15 men's basketball players and you have 15 women's basketball players that get to work with their coaches, that's a little bit of a Title IX inequity right there.
So it's, to me, it is ridiculous that we can't work with them and have the opportunity because otherwise they just have to go do it on their own. So they're there, so why not let the coaches work with them. I'm curious what these guys think. I've never asked them.
MADI KUBIK: I kind of disagree. I see what you're saying about obviously with other sports having the opportunity do that, why can't we, there's a valid point there. But I also think the summer presents such a unique opportunity for this team-led culture to exist.
And I think what was so strong on our team last year was having that and instilling the things that are so important to us being Nebraska volleyball players and kind of down through our younger players of that being led by us. And if we don't care about what we're doing and with each other, then -- if the coaches care really deeply, that's great and we want that. But if we don't care about it within each other, we're going to have a problem there.
So I think the summer presents that really unique opportunity for us to find that in each other.
KENZIE KNUCKLES: I agree with both of you guys.
COACH COOK: She's the peacemaker.
KENZIE KNUCKLES: But I see with what you're saying, I think that it would be really nice to be able to work with coaches and it's a little bit unfair. But I also see what you're saying. And I think it's nice for us because I feel like there's a lot of us that are really bought in and can teach the younger players, like, this is how we do things and stuff.
But at the same time that doesn't mean that's everywhere and at every college and every university. And so that's why I think that it's a little bit unfortunate.
Q. I want to springboard off this conversation a little bit, particularly for Madi and Kenzie, because nationally a lot of the conversation around this tumultuous time we have in college athletics, whether that's NIL or realignment or athlete activism, a lot of that is centered around the perspective of what that means for football and what that means for men's and women's and basketball. I see you two are leaders on a premier program.
Outside of this conversation about whether we should reform access to coaches over the summer, what are some things that you think are really important from your perspective as volleyball athletes and these changes that you would want a national audience to know or understand, because we know what the football team thinks and we know what other athletes think. I'd love to know what you think. Curious if anything jumps to mind.
KENZIE KNUCKLES: It's hard because at Nebraska we do get a lot of the things that I don't know what other universities get, you know what I mean? Nebraska volleyball gets a lot. We get training table that gets us what we need to eat to fuel ourselves for practice and games. And we have an ice bath and contrast. We have all these things, we're given these things. Our sports psych is out of this world.
So it's really hard. I don't know what other volleyball teams don't get or if they might have a different perspective because we are treated really well at Nebraska and, like, given everything that we need. That's really hard for me to answer.
MADI KUBIK: I would agree. I feel like it's hard to speak on behalf of other schools because we're very blessed and grateful to be -- we get treated like queens. And Coach says that. Kind of not to quote "The Avengers" but with great power -- with great power there's great responsibility. That was kind of a tangent.
Q. Thank you, Spiderman.
MADI KUBIK: There you go.
Coach says when we play at a really high level and we are given lots of things that there are expectations that follow that. We're expected to show up in the gym every day and give our best and play our best. And the things that we are so grateful to receive is not across the board with all schools. And so I guess it's hard to speak on their behalf.
Q. Two points better [inaudible] can you explain where that came from? And what areas are you kind of focusing on to be improving this offseason, to be able to make that jump of two points better?
MADI KUBIK: We talk about two points better being that we have to win matches by three sets by two points. Doesn't matter how it's done or how long it takes. But we're going to keep the war of attrition and we're going to keep our endurance up to stay with teams three sets by two points.
And with summer, because we're not in the gym as much with the coaching staff, obviously, we get the opportunity to do that in workouts. At the end of the workouts every single day we have a two-points-better activity. Whether it's with our sports psychology, something conditioning.
The other day we had to do a wall sit and pass a med ball and recite cities in a state. But no one could repeat the same cities. Or we had the Coach Cook quotes and no one could say the same one. Just fun things where it challenges us in a physical way but also in a mental way to prepare us for the big moments in season where we need both physical and mental strength and endurance to be two points better than the team across the net from us.
Q. John, Big Ten matches are going to be shown on Volleyball World internationally. You haven't had a ton of international players, but this will change that aspect of it. Your thoughts about all of that?
COACH COOK: I don't know if I have thoughts right now because it's all trying to wrap my head around it, what it's going to be like. I know I've done a couple of podcasts in Europe with people very interested in U.S.A. volleyball, which is cool. They see things a little differently. And I've noticed in the past, a lot of the international coaches and clubs really don't respect -- they think college volleyball is like college volleyball in Europe or Germany or France; it's like a club team in a university.
So I don't know how much they really respect the level of play that we have here. Now, I know Geo (phonetic) from Turkey, he came to Nebraska in the VNL. And I talked for hours with him.
He's had some of our players play there. And he gets it. And I think it just could build a nice bridge and it can help expand volleyball in this country and make it a big deal.
I'm curious how it will go across overseas. I think in China, I know Nebraska, I know our national championship match, some of our matches have been some of the highest televised broadcasts in China because Nebraska does a lot of trade with China. And we've been over there five times.
So it's been a big deal. When we're playing in a national championship it gets rebroadcast over there. I hear from the people from China and it's very popular.
Q. Branding is obviously very important for student-athletes and for the volleyball program athletic department. What is Red Kingdom, why is it important for offseason development?
COACH COOK: Red Kingdom. So get ready for the Red Kingdom. So we always look for ways to inspire our team. At the end of last year, Tech N9ne -- Google him -- he did a song for the Kansas City Chiefs, Welcome to the Red Kingdom. We did it. The players -- I saw the reaction they had. We stole it, used it. Welcome to the red kingdom for Nebraska, even though it has football lyrics in it.
After the season, I tried to call Tech N9ne directly. You have to go through all his people. It took me about a month and we finally got through to his right-hand guy. And I said, hey, I want you to make a Red Kingdom song for Nebraska volleyball.
They said, okay, let's check it out. And fortunately the guy who is his right-hand guy's daughter played volleyball and he knew about Nebraska volleyball. He was living in Kansas City. And he was at -- when we won the national championship in Kansas City in '17, he was there.
So that helped get us in the door. And then Tech N9ne agreed to do it. But then I had to go back to Trev and our people in marketing at Nebraska and they said, well, we don't want you to just have a song for volleyball, can you do it for all the sports?
So I went back to Tech N9ne, and ironically he came and did a show in Lincoln but it was sold out. We couldn't get tickets. And anyway, so long story short, he made a song for Nebraska athletics, Red Kingdom. It will be one of our theme songs going into this year because I want to continue -- we have a new generation of fans watching Nebraska volleyball. And I want to continue to make sure we continue on the traditions we have but develop new things that will inspire, especially, our student section.
You'll see what happens with them and some of the benefits of how we're going to tie them in with Nebraska basketball and the Red Kingdom. That's the story of the Red Kingdom. Tech N9ne is behind it. And all this was happening when he did a TikTok video, which I just did one today. I hope it gets 15 million views like Dwayne the Rock and Tech N9ne did on theirs. With Madi and Kenzie, I'll be close, and the Big Ten.
Follow me on Instagram @coach_apchap to improve your game even faster!
I share alot of individual, partner and easy-to-do volleyball serving drills we do in class with my followers.
Many of these volleyball practice drills you can do at home by yourself or try at your next practice with your teammates.
If you're a B team or JV player trying to make varsity next year...your goal should be to complete 1000 reps a day of at least three of the basic skills on your own...volleyball passing, serving and setting should be at the top of the list.
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