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NU closes in on Big Ten title

NU closes in on Big Ten title

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Nebraska’s goal this season is to win the Big Ten and compete for a national title.

But that’s always the goal for John Cook and his team.

“In private that is one of our goals every year,” Cook said Monday at his weekly press conference. “I’ve told you guys before winning the Big Ten is probably harder than winning the national championship because it’s over 10 weeks and the NCAA Tournament is three weeks.

“But it’s a goal for us every year. We keep that in-house.”

The national championship will be decided down the road, but the No. 6 Huskers have put themselves in position for a shot at the Big Ten title. With three weekends left to play, Nebraska is 20-4 overall and 13-1 in the Big Ten.

That puts the Huskers in a tie with No. 1-rated Penn State (23-1, 13-1) for the top spot in the conference, and Nebraska owns a 3-0 sweep of the Nittany Lions on the road to open the Big Ten season.

The Huskers are coming off a tough 25-22, 21-24, 26-24, 25-23 win over Purdue Friday night at the Devaney Center. On Saturday, it took Nebraska just an hour and 13 minutes to beat Indiana 25-8, 25-14, 25-13.

Purdue hit .328 against the Huskers. Both Sherridan Atkinson and Danielle Cuttino had 20 kills in 40 attempts and hit .450. Each also had just two errors.

Cook said that was a good learning experience for the Huskers.

“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Cook said. “Sometimes there are going to be players we can’t stop, that we have a hard time matching up with. You just have to weather that storm and find a way to get a touch, a dig, a play and hang in there.

“I think it was a great learning match for us because they were playing really well and we just had to keep weathering the storm until we could find a way to turn a couple of points and win some close games.”

Cook said Purdue is a team to keep an eye on when the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

“Nobody is going to want to play them in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “I can tell you that. And they’re going to come in probably as not a top 16 seed, so look out if you get them in your bracket.”

Now the Huskers face the task of playing some lower-division teams in the Big Ten. They host Maryland (5-9, 16-10) Wednesday and Rutgers (5-21, 0-14) Sunday. That’s followed by matches at Ohio State (13-12, 6-8), Maryland and Northwestern (13-13, 3-11) before ending the regular season against Iowa (16-11, 5-9) at the Devaney Center.

That schedule may not be as easy as it first appears.

“There’s still a lot of volleyball left to be played. You guys all say, ‘Well, we don’t play any more ranked teams,’ but Ohio State just won at Wisconsin. Maryland just beat Purdue who is playing great,” Cook said. “Don’t be surprised if Purdue takes out Minnesota or Wisconsin this weekend. Iowa had Purdue on the ropes. This conference is crazy so we’re just staying in the moment right now. That’s all we can do.”

The NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed an early look at its top 10 seeds for the upcoming tournament last week. The Huskers were second behind top-seed Penn State with Minnesota third.

Stanford, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, Washington, Oregon and Wisconsin rounded out the top 10.

Cook said the early look is good for volleyball because it gets people talking about the sport, but there are still three weeks left in the season.

“We don’t really talk about it,” he said. “ We’re trying to get on this Big Ten thing. That’s our focus.

“The thing is with our conference, if you do well in the Big Ten, you’re going to be rewarded in the NCAA Tournament with a seed. You may not get a great draw, but you do well in the (conference) you’re going to be in the high seeds. The committee knows how tough this conference is.”

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Sports reporter for The Independent

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