LINCOLN, Neb. -- Lauren Cook is no prodigal daughter groveling for a second chance. All she did was excel in her one season at UCLA, where she was the national freshman of the year.
Now the self-described "Nebraska girl" has come home to play for her father, John Cook, and his second-ranked Cornhuskers.
The addition of Lauren Cook, the return of fellow setter and two-time All-American Sydney Anderson and the presence of two 6-foot-5 attackers give Nebraska the makings of what could be the most powerful offense in college volleyball this year.
Whether that's enough to topple three-time defending national champion and future Big Ten rival Penn State likely won't be known until the NCAA Championships on Dec. 16 and 18 in Kansas City, Mo.
Lauren Cook's return to Lincoln, however, undoubtedly was a factor in the Huskers being picked to supplant 2009 national runner-up Texas atop the Big 12.
Interestingly, the 5-foot-8 sophomore said she never really gave serious thought to joining her dad at Nebraska two years ago when she was coming out of Lincoln Pius X. After being named national high school player of the year, she wanted to go anywhere but Nebraska. So she headed to the West Coast to play at one of the bastions of the sport.
"One of the big things about leaving here was I wanted to make my own path," she said. "I did part of that and showed I don't just get places because of my name.
"I established my footsteps, and then I realized I belong back at Nebraska. I'm glad I went out there and figured things out."
It wasn't just homesickness that brought her home. Her major, event management, isn't offered at UCLA.
"I should have looked into that before I went out there," she said. "I was so caught up in the volleyball scene."
Cook also kept comparing UCLA with Nebraska, where 135 straight matches have sold out at the 4,030-seat Coliseum and the players are minor celebrities and idolized by young players statewide.
"Honestly, nothing compares with Nebraska," she said. "Nothing was good enough at UCLA. If I went to another school, that would be the same situation."
Cook started all but one match last season and helped the Bruins to a 24-9 record and a No. 14 final ranking. She averaged 10.7 assists and 2.4 digs per set.
Instead of immediate joy, her request to transfer to Nebraska caused some stress in the Cook household and among the coaching staff.
John Cook said he worried about how the addition of his daughter would affect team chemistry and whether she would be comfortable in a setting where all eyes will be on her.
He also was concerned about how Anderson, one of the best setters in the nation, would react to having to share playing time.
"We were successful last year with what we were doing," the coach said, "and now we were tweaking it."
Anderson said it took some time for her to warm to the idea of making room for Lauren Cook. Of course, she also worried about the coach's daughter getting preferential treatment.
"My first response was kind of confused. Yeah, I was upset and maybe a little sad," Anderson said. "Part of my role would be taken away.
"Once Lauren showed up here, there was a connection out on the court that I couldn't give."
Cook considered sitting out as a redshirt this season, but her father couldn't resist the prospect of running a two-setter system with the rare combination of left-handed right-side hitters in senior Lindsey Licht and freshman Morgan Broekhuis.
Cook said she senses that she has gained the acceptance and trust of her new teammates, including Anderson.
The Huskers open the season this weekend in the Runza/AVCA Showcase in Omaha, and there's no place Lauren Cook would rather be.
"I've been around Nebraska for the last eight-plus years and realize how special it is," she said. "It's hard to walk away from. I did that, and then I realized I've got to go back there. That's where I belong."