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Compliments from Cook as Huskers prepare for semis battle with Pitt

Compliments from Cook as Huskers prepare for semis battle with Pitt

Nebraska coach John Cook addresses his team during Wednesday’s practice/@AndyWenstrand

By Joey Johnston for VolleyballMag.com

TAMPA — Nebraska’s Big Red contingent has landed at the NCAA Division I Volleyball Championship. Saying the Huskers travel well is like saying the Gulf of Mexico sunsets are sort of pretty.

The fandemonium remains an incredible sight.

Or is that … inc-RED-ible?

But even though the bandwagon has long been filled to the brim and some paint this weekend as a Nebraska coronation, it’s actually a fierce competition.

No one knows that better than Nebraska coach John Cook, who will lead his top-ranked Huskers (32-1) into Thursday night’s national semifinal against the Pittsburgh Panthers (29-4).

That’s why Cook had his players locked-in and prepared Wednesday morning as they took the court for a public practice that included a few hundred (you guessed it) red-clad onlookers.

Cook told his players it was the best pre-final four practice he had seen from his program.

“There’s so much going on here and it has gotten more (busy) every year,’’ Cook said. “It’s hard to stay focused on why we’re here. These guys had to get up this morning and go to a morning practice. We don’t practice in the mornings (during the regular season). But they came in and took care of business.

“They’ve been doing it all year. I was not surprised. Sometimes, they deserve a compliment.’’

The Panthers deserve a few compliments of their own. Pittsburgh has earned its third consecutive national semifinals berth and doesn’t consider itself as the supporting act.

“I think that we try to treat every opponent the same,’’ Panthers setter Rachel Fairbanks said. “Obviously, every opponent is different (stylistically). But we just focus on preparing really well and not letting all the outward noise get to us, just focusing on who we are as a team and playing our best volleyball.’’

“Each year (of reaching the Final Four) has been a little different story,’’ Pittsburgh coach Dan Fisher said. “But I’ll just say we have very good players who care a lot about their teammates and their team culture. We don’t have selfish players at Pitt who are in it for the wrong reasons. And we train hard.’’

At Pittsburgh, the fans have noticed.

Fisher recalls the days early in his tenure when ACC home matches might draw a few hundred spectators. Now the Panthers have a solid following and a…

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