LINCOLN — When Lexi Sun was choosing her next college volleyball team last spring, and several of the top programs were interested in the player who had earned all-conference honors as a freshman at Texas, Sun had a few questions for Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook.
Sun asked Cook if he would push her to another level as a player if she came to Nebraska.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah, love to,’” Cook said.
Cook likes to hear that from recruits. And maybe especially from a player like Sun, who as one of the best youth and high school players in the country growing up near San Diego had been told for many years how good she was.
Sun’s playing career at Nebraska didn’t get off to a great start. The sophomore outside hitter joined the program in the summer, but an upper-body injury forced her to sit out a lot of the preseason and the first seven matches of the season.
And her first two months of the season were at times up-and-down, at least her hitting, with some great matches and a few bad ones.
But as Nebraska enters the most pressure-packed week of the season, Sun has built some momentum over the past 10 matches of the Big Ten season and the first two matches of the NCAA Tournament. Now, when Nebraska plays Kentucky in the NCAA Sweet 16 on Friday, Sun will continue to try and make opponents have to defend Nebraska as a balanced attack.
Looking back, why was it that Sun asked Cook if he would push her to another level?
“I think that in high school, and stuff, I put more emphasis on what other people thought of me, rather than me wanting it for myself,” Sun said.
“I think this past year I realized that I need to want it for myself, and I need someone like Coach Cook to push me, and I think that having him hold me accountable to that, I think that’s super-big for me. Just pushing myself, and having him push me every day to be the best player that I can be.”
So far, so good, Cook says. Sun has been awesome to coach.
“She watches more video than anybody on our team with me. She’s always asking questions,” Cook said. “She’s very, very, coachable. She wants to be great.”
Sun improved her play in the final 10 matches of the Big Ten season, averaging 3.2 kills per set on a .209 hitting percentage average in that stretch. In the first half of the Big Ten season, her averages were 3.0 and .157.
Then, in the first two matches of the NCAA Tournament, Sun had 20 kills combined and hit. 300.
Cook attributes her improvement to the rehab from her injury, her work in strength and conditioning, and a better understanding of how to play in the Big Ten.
In Nebraska’s biggest win of the season, against Penn State, Sun was having a rough match hitting, but then she was the difference in the fifth set, with six kills on nine attempts with no errors.
In a match at Iowa, Sun had kills on four consecutive points to help Nebraska rally and win a set. She had 12 kills and hit. 400 in that match, a hitting percentage she’s since bettered twice. In a sweep against Ohio State, Sun didn’t have a single hitting error — getting blocked or hitting out — on 23 attempts and hit .522.
At Nebraska, Sun says she’s worked on hitting at a high point in her jump, so she has options for her shots, and on being aggressive with her attacks, even when she’s not hitting in a perfect situation.
“Just working on getting up and being confident up there and taking big swings is super-big for us,” Sun said.
There have also been matches when Sun has been one of the Huskers’ best servers, and she can cover a lot of the court on defense. She had 16 digs in a three-set win against Indiana.