The Nebraska volleyball program is about to begin a lull when it comes to having in-state players to cheer for, but that will change again in a few years.
The 2018 team won’t have any scholarship players from the state of Nebraska, and walk-on defensive specialist Hayley Densberger from Malcolm will probably be the only Nebraskan on the roster.
That doesn’t mean the team won’t have great players, but it will be a little different from when there were players from Lincoln or Gordon or Burchard that fans felt a special connection to.
In four or five years the Huskers could be featuring several in-state players again. In a two-year stretch Nebraska will add three in-state scholarship players. In the 2020 recruiting class (high school juniors) will be middle blocker Kalynn Meyer from Superior. And in the 2021 class is outside hitter Lindsay Krause from Omaha Skutt and middle blocker Rylee Gray from Elkhorn South.
Nebraska’s last in-state scholarship signee was Olivia Boender in the 2014 class. She would have been a senior this year but ended her career for medical reasons.
Nebraska coach John Cook remains impressed with the number of NCAA Division I volleyball players who come from Nebraska, but he says there has been a lull over a few recruiting classes where there haven’t been as many of the elite-level players. But he thinks that will change in the classes that are about to be high school freshmen and sophomores.
“I think the level is starting to change, and the depth and the level is really good,” Cook said. “The thing is the quantity of players going to college for our population is still over the top. Just those elite players like a Jordan Larson, Christina Houghtelling, Dani Busboom, Kelly Hunter, (Kadie and Amber Rolfzen), that’s what we’ve been missing the last few years. But there is some coming.”
This week some of that in-state talent was on display during a volleyball camp at the Devaney Sports Center. As part of a larger camp, the Huskers hosted their dream team camp, which included 28 high school players.
For the Husker coaches it was a glimpse into the future, with eight of the team's 10 scholarship commits taking part in the three-day camp.
All three scholarship commits from the 2019 class were at the camp: outside hitters Riley Zuhn and Madi Kubik, and libero Kenzie Knuckles. Walk-on Emma Gabel from Lincoln Pius X also was there.
In the 2020 class, setter/hitter Nicole Drewnick and Meyer were there. And from the 2021 class, setter Kennedi Orr, defensive specialist Alexis Rodriguez and Krause.
With all of those players making the trip to Lincoln, it made for a high-level camp. Kubik has already played with the U.S junior national team this summer. There also was one high school boy, Mitch Seggerman from Sioux City, Iowa, who played among the hundreds of girls.
“You got those older kids with the younger kids, and it really raises the level because those kids have to raise up their level,” Cook said. “They don’t just play where they’re comfortable, they have to rise up. And then having Mitch in there, the guy, he’s a physical kid, so it’s great for those guys."
New NCAA rules prevent coaches from making scholarship offers during the camp, but that will happen later as a result of what the coaches saw this week.
It’s great for the coaches to be able to work with so many commits before they join the program. But Cook doesn’t think too much about the future. In fact, he’s reminded of how much the players can still improve in strength and skill.
“Even though these guys are dominant players in club volleyball and high school, they’re still a notch behind our players who have been here one, two or three years,” Cook said. “It’s pretty amazing the difference.”
In recruiting, Cook said Nebraska evaluates in-state prospects the same way it does other players, but the coaches begin their search in a 500-mile radius of Lincoln. From Cook's experience, players who come from that area are often successful at Nebraska because they're less likely to get homesick and are used to the cold weather and Midwest lifestyle.
“That’s where we start, and then we go anywhere. We had three dream team kids from Florida here," Cook said.
Gray, the in-demand player from Elkhorn South, recently committed to the Huskers, choosing Nebraska over Stanford. Cook said he always worries about losing in-state players they’ve offered because so many top programs recruit the state. But he could only remember two in-state players turning down a Husker offer during his 18 seasons. They were sisters Gabi and Tatum Ailes from Bellevue. Gabi went to Stanford, and Tatum to Missouri.