Another summer has produced another hot streak in recruiting for the Nebraska volleyball program.
What that means for success on the court won’t be known for several more years. The three players in the 2024 recruiting class can’t even make it official by signing with the Huskers for 16 months. It could be four seasons before they are starters.
But Nebraska’s hit rate in recruiting right now is the envy of almost every coach in any college sport, and eyes get big at the sight of the Huskers’ percentage of targets accepting offers.
June 15 marked the first day college coaches were allowed to make recruiting calls to 2024 players, and in those first few days, Nebraska had four Zoom calls with recruits and their families. Over the span of about one week, the Huskers had three pledges.
“I talked to another coach that I know and they did 40 Zoom calls. We did four,” NU coach John Cook said.
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The Huskers will have the No. 1 or No. 2-ranked recruiting class in the nation four times in five years.
The 2022 recruiting class (this season’s freshmen) — Maggie Mendelson, Bekka Allick, Hayden Kubik and Maisie Boesiger — is ranked No. 2 according to PrepVolleyball.com. The 2023 class, which has the No. 1 overall recruit in outside hitter Harper Murray and two more in the top-5, is ranked No. 1.
Obviously, Cook feels good about what the program is doing right now in recruiting.
“We’ve been working really hard at identifying great fits here,” said Cook, who gives assistant coach Jaylen Reyes a lot of credit for Nebraska’s work in recruiting.
“And it’s exciting to see, and it feels really good to know that many of the top recruits want to come to Nebraska. So that reaffirms what we’re doing here is working when people want to be a part of this program.”
Nebraska’s success in recruiting was on display earlier this month when seven of the 20 players invited to a tryout for the United States junior national volleyball team were Nebraska players or commits. Being a Husker recruit elevates your profile, but those teams are built to win tournaments — not to make recruiting class lists.
When the US team was chosen it was most of the older players, including Mendelson and Husker commits Andi Jackson, Bergen Reilly and Murray. And the future Huskers have played well, with Jackson and Murray being the leading scorers for the Americans.
Cook feels like Nebraska is able to attract a really high-level athlete right now.
“We’re getting recruits from all over, which is good,” he said. “And these players have big goals. All of these guys want to play pro, and try to be on the national team. Of course, we have a great track record with that.”
It’s also an indication of the type of person Nebraska has recruited that several current Huskers and recruits have been chosen to be captains for a Team USA age-group team, including Lexi Rodriguez, Kennedi Orr, Allick and Mendelson.
When it’s time to really start recruiting for the next cycle how does Nebraska go about making its offers? It could put out several offers and go with a first-come-first-served approach. Or they could make only a few offers and then move down its list after a top target commits elsewhere.
“We have a very small group that we Zoom with, and we lay out the plans for offers, or how that will work,” he said. “So we’re targeting who we think would be a great fit here and fit into our recruiting scheme and how they would fit into our program and when they could get on the court.”
Coaches don’t know for sure how they’ll feel about a recruit — and how the recruit will feel about you — until you can start having long conversations.
But for some of the potential targets, Nebraska knows it could at least be a contender because high school players can email college coaches before their junior year, even though coaches aren’t able to respond due to NCAA rules.
“They can email us, so we get a pretty good indication of who has an interest by what they’re saying and how they’re communicating, even though we can’t communicate back,” Cook said. “They’re letting us know, ‘Hey, we’re going to be at this (club) tournament.’ Or, ‘Thanks for coming to watch.’”
In this recruiting cycle, Nebraska got three commits in about 10 days — from Lenexa, Kansas, outside hitter Sylyer Pierce; Bennington defensive specialist Olivia Mauch and Prosper, Texas, middle blocker Ayden Ames.
A lot of Nebraska’s momentum in recruiting over the past five years has come from its Dream Team camp. That’s when many of the top players from both Nebraska and elsewhere in the country (and even an occasional international player) come to Lincoln a few days in July.
For the high school players, it’s the best way to get a feel for what it would be like to play volleyball at Nebraska because you’re playing on the main court at the Devaney Sports Center and being coached by Nebraska’s coaches and players.
“It’s kind of a first date, where you see if this is a good fit or not,” Cook said.
This summer the camp was different because most of Nebraska’s commits and targets had a conflict that week with a Team USA tryout. That allowed some younger players to move up to the top court and show what they could do.
“We had a younger Dream Team camp, but, man, was it talented,” Cook said. “The level of play just keeps going up – the athleticism, the skill level, how hard they hit the ball. I saw two of the best setters I’ve ever seen for ninth graders going into 10th grade. These guys were exceptional setters. These athletes are getting taller and more physical. The level of play is going up in this country.”
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