Last month the freshmen on the Nebraska volleyball team were ranked as the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation.

And that came before the class got a late addition in setter Nicole Drewnick, who graduated from high school early and joined the Huskers seven months earlier than planned.

Stanford was the No. 1 ranked class, and with four players ranked in the top 10 of the class probably wouldn’t have been passed by Nebraska regardless.

Nebraska coach John Cook already had worked closely with two of the freshmen when outside hitter Madi Kubik and libero Kenzie Knuckles graduated from high school early.

Still, Cook wondered if the class was ranked too high. But then the rest of the group began showing up in Lincoln in May and Cook got to see them in action because Nebraska got 10 practices in advance of its summer trip to Asia.

“I’m really, really impressed with our freshmen class,” said Cook last week, just before the team left for its 17-day trip to Japan and China. “They were ranked second (by PrepVolleyball.com) and I’m like, ‘Whoa, what are these people thinking?’ And now that they’re here I’m seeing some really good things from these freshmen."

The freshmen who arrived in the last month are Riley Zuhn, Fallon Stutheit, Emma Gabel and Drewnick.

Zuhn is 6-foot-5 and was the No. 32-ranked recruit in the class. Cook is trying to decide what position Zuhn will play to begin her college career. She’s training at both outside hitter and middle blocker. The Huskers only have two scholarship middle blockers with Lauren Stivrins and Callie Schwarzenbach.

“We’re thin in the middle and (Zuhn is) a really good blocker,” Cook said. “I want to teach her how to be a really good blocker and how to get on the ball really fast, because she tends to get on the ball slow. So if you train them in the middle that fixes those two things. We just want her to focus on hitting and blocking right now and being a front-row player and not worried about the back row.”

Drewnick is training at setter but could also play other positions.

Gabel injured her knee during the club volleyball season and probably won’t play this season. She did not make the trip so she could continue her rehab.

Trip begins: The team is in the early days of its trip to Japan and China, where it is scheduled to play seven matches. Stivrins was looking forward to the team getting closer.

“I think it’s going to be a whole new experience for all of us, and we’re going to go in and embrace everything and make the most of it,” Stivrins said. “But there is a lot of stuff we’re nervous for. We’ve heard a few horror stories from girls that have gone on previous trips. But they said it just brings everyone closer, so I’m excited for that.”

New staffer: Nebraska has a new addition to its coaching staff after Beau Lawler was recently hired as video coordinator and assistant director of operations. Nebraska has also joined some other volleyball programs in making its video coordinator position a full-time job, instead of a graduate manager position.

Lawler has previously been on the volleyball staffs at Idaho State and Utah. Lawler replaces Kelly O’Connor, who is now an assistant coach at Omaha.

Cook didn’t have a previous connection to Lawler, and Lawler got the job after about five candidates were interviewed. Lindsay Peterson is still the director of operations for the program.

Locker room upgrade: There is construction going on at the Devaney Sports Center, with a recovery whirlpool being added to the volleyball locker room.

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


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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