Last year, the NCAA dramatically altered the Division I volleyball recruiting in an effort to curb the trend of early commitments and the pressure that kind of recruiting can create for young girls.
Coaches now have to wait until a prospective student-athlete is heading into her junior year before they can initiate direct contact with recruits through text messages, phone calls and other forms of communication. Nebraska’s staff had already identified targets and built relationships with players in the 2022 class and beyond before the rule changes, but when May 1, 2019 hit, they had to cut off that communication.
That’s why June 15 was a big day in the volleyball world as it marked the first day coaches were able to open those channels of communication once again.
“June 15 was a day that everybody had been waiting for,” Coach John Cook told Hail Varsity. “I think it all unleashed on that day. It was good to connect with everybody. I was super impressed with the interaction and dialogue with the class of 2022, the student-athletes that I spoke to, maybe because they’re more mature, they’re older now. Because of the rules they have to wait longer, but great conversations and I think there was a big pent-up day of when we could actually talk. There was a lot of excitement. That started the race for recruits.”
Cook said he personally held four or five Zoom calls on that first day of the contact period while his assistants, Jaylen Reyes and Kelly Hunter, each had a few more.
“We’re only recruiting a select group,” Cook said. “It wasn’t that many, but there was a lot of pent-up demand. Almost all of the Zoom calls we had, those guys were in camp last summer, so we did have a previous relationship or they’d been to camp two years ago, three years ago. We did have a previous relationship. Some of them have been here for matches. So it was fairly easy for us; we weren’t really breaking new ground.”
Cook already had one pledge in his 2022 class as middle blocker Bekka Allick committed to Nebraska before her freshman year at Lincoln North Star, well before the rule change. He added his second commitment a couple days after the contact period opened back up as outside hitter Hayden Kubik chose to follow in her sister Madi’s footsteps and become a Husker.
Cook had already put together a large, star-studded 2021 class featuring six commits. Waverly outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein put a cap on that class with her commitment back in November.
“We were aggressive early in the class of 2021 and I think that’s paid off, and then 2022 too,” Cook said. “We’re always trying to stay ahead, and maybe that’s easier at a program like Nebraska than at other schools. We try to stay ahead of the game and stay organized, and I’ve had some great recruiters. Kayla [Banwarth] did a super job with that. Jaylen’s doing an awesome job right now. And that’s the key is having somebody to stay on top of all this and then adjust when we have to like we have this year with new rules and the COVID. It’s been a major adjustment, but Jaylen’s taken that over and is very passionate about it and has done an outstanding job.”
With eight commits already in the next two classes, Cook can be very selective as he finishes up his 2022 class.
“We want to fill a walk-on position, somebody that could potentially develop,” Cook said. “Then if there’s a special player out here that can help us go to another level, that’s also what we’re looking at.”
The new calendar is only a year old and Nebraska is still in the process of fully fleshing out its adjusted strategy, something the COVID-19 pandemic has made difficult. But Cook did say he’s in favor of the changes regardless of what Nebraska’s new recruiting strategy will look like once things return to normal.
“It’s hard to say because this year with COVID, there’s been no recruiting,” Cook said. “We haven’t been able to go see them. We got out one weekend and that was it. The way we’re adjusting is everybody’s taking it slower now, and now the fact that they can make official visits as juniors, this kind of slows it down. Now they can go make visits, get it paid for and really go through the process the correct way and get a really good feel as opposed to making unofficial visits or just coming to a camp. I think it slows it down and we’re perfectly happy with that. I think it’s going to lead to fewer mistakes and allow people to make better decisions.”
In the short term, losing out on the club evaluation opportunity isn’t too much of a blow for Nebraska considering the Huskers had most of their 2020 and 2021 spots already filled. On the other hand, Nebraska also had to cancel its annual summer camps, which are typically a valuable recruiting tool for down the line.
“It’s huge for us,” Cook said. “So many of the kids want to come to camp and our camps are sold out. For many of our recruits, especially our younger players, this is their chance to come experience Nebraska. That was a big loss for us. Our players like to work camps, so that’s a benefit, and our grad managers and support staff are used to working camps. It makes for a boring summer, and not being able to interact with and coach and work with kids, that’s a big hit too.”
That being said, Cook’s assistants have still been busy helping at camps and skill-training sessions hosted by local club programs, and within the next month, they should be able to get back to work with the Huskers already on campus.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.