SIU Edwardsville vs. Nebraska, 11/11/17

Nebraska women's basketball coach Amy Williams watches second-half action against SIU-Edwardsville at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday.

GWYNETH ROBERTS, JOURNAL STAR

It will be a few years until we know if the four-player recruiting class that the Nebraska women’s basketball team signed last week plays up to its potential as a top-25 ranked class.

How many end up as starters? Does the group help the Huskers finish in the top half of the Big Ten Conference, and reach the NCAA Tournament?

What we know for now is that it’s a class that most college coaches coming off a 7-22 season, like the Huskers had last season, would be happy to get.

Nebraska signed forwards Ashtyn Veerbeek and Kayla Mershon, and guards Leigha Brown and Sam Haiby.

Nebraska's class was ranked No. 20 nationally by the ESPN rankings at the start of the early signing period. The class rankings won’t be final until July.

“We feel like it’s just the perfect fit for us,” said Nebraska coach Amy Williams of the class. “I don’t buy into all the rankings too much, or get too bogged down with that, because we feel like they believe in us and they see our vision and we believe in them and it’s just a great fit with both sides.”

Williams said the top priority for the class was to find players who fit the program’s culture.

“Great kids who understand how to work, and who are excited about coming in to help us build for a championship-level program,” Williams said. “Kids that understand how to win, and players that kind of have a little chip on their shoulders and want to play gritty and tough. That was our No. 1 priority. And so we identified these players early, and then the fact that they kind of emerged in their final summer as a top 20 class is really kind of just gravy on top for us.”

Veerbeek is the highest-ranked player in the class. She's ranked as the No. 55 player in the class by Blue Star, and No. 68 by ESPN.

It was an earlier connection with Veerbeek that helped the Huskers get her. She is a 6-foot-2 forward from Sioux Center, Iowa, and Williams saw Veerbeek play one of her first high school games while Williams was the head coach at South Dakota.

Williams offered Veerbeek a scholarship to South Dakota. After Williams and her staff moved to Nebraska, Veerbeek came to a basketball camp at Nebraska, and Williams offered her a scholarship again.

A lot more colleges knew about Veerbeek after she had a great summer of club basketball, but she’d already committed to Nebraska.

“She had a fantastic summer. It was kind of a breaking out,” Williams said. “I’d be at a totally different tournament she wasn’t even playing in and someone would say, ‘Oh, man, I love that kid.’ I would say she blew up this summer. It was good to see her play with that confidence that we’ve had in her all along.”

Haiby is an interesting recruit because she also plays for the baseball team at her high school in Moorhead, Minnesota. She was a starting shortstop and pitcher.

Williams arranged for Haiby to meet with Nebraska baseball coach and two-time major league All-Star Darin Erstad when she visited Lincoln.

“I think she was as impressed with the baseball stadium, and their indoor hitting facility, as she was with Pinnacle Bank Arena,” Williams said.

Brown, a 6-foot-1 guard from Auburn, Indiana, has already started her senior season, and scored 53 points in a win on Nov. 3.

Williams thinks Brown is motivated because she didn’t get recruited by some of the big programs closer to home, like Purdue.

“I think she just feels like she’s worked hard, and she feels like, ‘Now I’m going to show everybody,’” Williams said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or bwagner@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.

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Sports reporter

Brent has worked at the Journal Star for 14 years. His beats include Nebraska volleyball, women's basketball and high school soccer and cross country.

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