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Conversations with Cook: On Maggie Mendelson’s Recruitment, Commitment and Competitive Drive

November 22, 2021

John Cook’s 2022 recruiting class received a big bump on Saturday as highly-touted middle blocker Maggie Mendelson (North Ogden, Utah) picked the Huskers.

Nebraska fans learned the news via Instagram. Cook found out a different way.

“I walked down to practice and here’s her and her family standing down there, like, ‘Whoa, what are you guys doing here?’ She came to commit in person, so it just shows you a little bit about her and her family and she’s done something nobody else has ever done,” he said. “She played on the USA youth basketball team in a major competition and the world championships for volleyball, started. She and Bekka [Allick] were the two starting middles.

“So we’re very, very excited and more importantly, her mom brought Crumbl cookies. If you haven’t had them, I’d highly recommend them. Start buying stock in that company when it goes online.”

The commitment didn’t come as a surprise to everybody in the program, however. Recruiting coordinator Jaylen Reyes helped arrange the surprise for Cook.

“Jaylen was in the loop because she had called,” Cook said. “I think her and Tom [Goehle] were working together to coordinate all this. She was planning on coming to our Rutgers game, but it got canceled. We still practiced Saturday and she showed up to practice in the morning. They flew in really early. So that’s pretty cool.”

On June 15, the day the recruiting dead period came to a close, Cook made sure Mendelson was the first recruit he saw, showing what kind of a priority she was for him.

“The very first day we could recruit after not being able to recruit for two years almost — or a year-and-a-half, whatever it was — she was the first place I went to see,” Cook said. “I flew to Salt Lake and was there the very opening morning of the club tournament she was playing in. She’s a special talent, she’s a multi-sport athlete, which we love here. Awesome family, her dad’s an elementary school teacher, so we talk the same language.”

She’s not just a multi-sport athlete in high school. She plans to do it in college too. Mendelson has international experience in both basketball and volleyball for the United Stats’ youth teams and plans to play both sports in Lincoln.

“She’s 6-4 and she plays basketball,” Cook said. “She’s an elite basketball and elite volleyball player. Obviously, she’s a good athlete, she can move, she has great vision. She’s a great competitor. She served for the USA volleyball team; most middles in club never serve. She’s got a great serve, she can play defense.

“She’s just a 6-4 athlete who can play and is a great competitor. That’s the one thing I told her when I first talked to her, I go, ‘I want to recruit your competitiveness to our program, because you are an elite competitor.’ You don’t do what she did unless you are. So that’s the first thing I told her, I said, ‘I know you’re a great athlete, a great player, but you are an elite competitor and that’s what I want you to bring in Nebraska volleyball.’”

Nebraska has a strong tradition of multi-sport athletes in the volleyball program. Some of the programs greatest players were stars in multiple sports in high school, and Mendelson won’t be the first volleyball player to also play basketball at Nebraska. Alicia Ostrander is the most recent to play both, and Allie Havers also joined the volleyball team for a season after wrapping up her basketball career.

“We have a verbal 2023 kid coming in that plays basketball, track,” Cook said. “We like those multi-sport athletes … We still love the multi-sport athletes. I think what’s happening in the big cities, these clubs, they tell them you can’t do both, so I blame it on some of the club programs, telling kids that can’t do both. Here in Nebraska me, Jordan [Larson], Chris Houghtelling, Dani Busboom, all those guys, they would go to club practice then go to basketball games. They did everything.”

Cook said playing both sports in college won’t be easy, but he and Amy Williams will work together to make it possible.

“It’s going to take a great plan between Amy and me,” Cook said. “Everybody’s got to give and and I think that’s one of the reasons she decided to come here, because Amy and I presented a great plan for her, one that she can try to do both. We’ve got to protect her physically and Amy’s got to give, we’ve got to give, and so I think we have a really good plan for her.”

Cook said working alongside Williams during Mendelson’s recruitment has been “awesome.”

“I was really excited to go to their basketball games this year because I work out a lot with when they’re in there in the weight room,” Cook said. “So I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys. Then at the training table, I eat over there. A lot of them eat with our players because Kendall [Coley] rooms with Kennedi [Orr]; the two Kendalls [Coley and Moriarty], I think they all room together. So I’ve hung out with them quite a bit. They’re just they’re awesome. Our strength coach trained them this summer because they didn’t have a strength coach, so I saw a lot of that. They’ve worked really hard and they’re changing the program. They’re awesome young women, just to hang around with, talk to, they’re cool.”

Cook said he was originally looking at Mendelson as a 2023 recruit, but thought her decision to reclassify to 2022 was a good one.

“You’re seeing more and more of it, but sometimes when you’re a high-level athlete and you’re playing against lower-level competition, it’s like if you went down there and went through football practice, you you could hurt somebody getting in the way or you could get hurt,” Cook said. “So I think it’s more of just looking at her situation, what opportunities she has. She’s already played on two elite teams. Academically it obviously wasn’t even an issue. So I just think for them, it’s, it’s a good move. This probably allows her to have more flexibility playing basketball or volleyball too, to have a fifth year whether she wants to focus on one one year and one on the other, it year just gives her some flexibility.”

Cook said he thinks Mendelson — who was PrepVolleyball.com‘s second-ranked player nationally in 2023 before reclassifying and is ESPN’s 32nd-ranked basketball prospect in 2022 — could be good enough to start for both teams from day one.

“I told her we’re not recruiting her to come in here and redshirt or have her sit the bench,” Cook said. “We wanted her because she has a chance to start.”

But first, Mendelson has one more season of high school basketball to complete before heading off to Lincoln. She helped guide Fremont (Plain City, Utah) High School to a state championship as a sophomore and will look to do it again this year.

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