There was a TV show during the 1990s I thought about on Sunday as I watched coach John Cook celebrate the national championship won by the Nebraska volleyball team on Saturday, with the party extending from Saturday evening into Sunday afternoon.
The show was “Coach,” and it was about a college football coach in Minnesota. The character of coach Hayden Fox, played by Craig T. Nelson, often clashed with the marching band director, Riley Pringle.
While Cook has his opinion about some things in college volleyball that probably don’t thrill everybody, he sure has looked like the opposite of coach Hayden Fox this year, with Cook engaging with the band and fans and having a lot of fun with the players.
Earlier in the season, Cook posted on social media his praise for the pep band that plays at the volleyball matches, and made some requests. And after the Huskers beat Florida in four sets on Saturday in Kansas City, Missouri, to win the national championship, Cook took a photo on the court with the band while holding the national championship trophy. He also took photos with individual members of the band.
When Cook got off the bus on Sunday at the welcome-home celebration, he waved to the band again. As the ceremony began, Cook sneaked over to talk to a cheerleader, enlisting the group to help him lead a cheer later in the program.
Cook couldn’t seem to stop grinning on Sunday, as one of his most rewarding and enjoyable seasons as a head coach resulted in another national championship. Cook is loving life as the head Husker.
The team traveled back from Kansas City by bus on Sunday morning, arriving at the Devaney Sports Center at about 11:30 a.m., where about 2,000 supporters greeted them. Cook used part of the trip to prepare a speech.
He had heard that Nebraska fans at the match on Saturday had cheered, “With each other, for each other.’” That was one of the team’s mottos, but Cook hadn’t heard the cheer during the match. So he split the crowd in two groups
“Can we just do a couple, just so I can hear it, because it’s music (to my ears),” Cook said.
And so the cheerleaders helped Cook get the cheer going.
Cook was just getting rolling.
John Cook: “You saw a team play great team volleyball’
“So I have a question for you,” Cook said. “How many of you back in August were thinking, you know what, this team is going to win a national championship and Big Ten championship? Raise your hand. No way, a couple. I sure as heck didn’t.”
Cook spent about 10 minutes recapping the season, and the moments that helped define it. Even when Nebraska started the season with an 0-2 record, Cook thought the Huskers could be pretty good. Nebraska lost to Florida in five sets during that first week, and no doubt were confident they could flip that result in the national championship match. All-American setter Kelly Hunter hadn’t played in the first match against Florida.
The Huskers beat Penn State to start the Big Ten season, and that’s when they really thought they had something. The only conference loss came against Wisconsin on Oct. 11.
“For those of you that follow volleyball and listen to what we talk about what’s important, that’s the only time all year we lost the serve-and-pass battle, and we lost the match,” Cook said. “And if you watched last night (against Florida), I guarantee you not only did we win the serve-and-pass battle, we blew them off the court with it.”
That, of course, got a big cheer.
Cook also spent time highlighting two major accomplishments off the court.
Senior Sydney Townsend won the Elite 90 award during Final Four week. That award goes to the student-athlete with the highest grade-point average of the teams at the Final Four. Townsend has a 3.83 GPA and is majoring in biochemistry. She is one of two Division I women’s volleyball athletes all-time to earn multiple Elite 90 awards in a career.
“I can’t tell you how awesome it is,” Cook said. “They have a Final Four banquet on Wednesday night, and all four teams are there and we went to this really cool theater in downtown Kansas City and we’re there with Stanford, Penn State and Florida. I can’t tell you how good it feels when a Nebraska student-athlete gets that award as the GPA of all the Final Four teams, and Stanford is sitting right next to us.”
Next, Cook talked about Briana Holman. She graduated on Saturday, and helped the Huskers win the national championship on the same day.
“I got to brag about Bri,” Cook said. “They give out all these awards, and it’s never fair, but Bri went up against all these All-American, great middle blockers, supposedly, in this tournament, and kicked their butts in all of them.”
Cook also recognized the senior class members, who have won four rings during their careers: two national championships and two Big Ten titles.
Then Cook finished his remarks.
“Nebraska needs this. We needed this. Merry Christmas, Huskers,” said Cook, and then as he returned to his seat he slapped hands with the players.