Nebraska fans learned this week on social media that Husker legend Jordan Larson is returning to Lincoln to join John Cook’s coaching staff in the fall. The players on the team, on the other hand, found out in person as Larson made an appearance at a practice.
“We walked into practice that day, and she was in there and we were all whispering to each other, we were like, ‘Wait, what’s going on?’” Merritt Beason said. “I think it was just very much the reaction that you would expect, like jaws on the floor, just so excited. It’s a great opportunity to be coached by her and it’s really special because she was in our shoes.
“So I think that’ll help us a lot too, having her and Kelly [Hunter] both. We have someone that we can relate to day in and day out. As a pin, that’s really special for me. I know the setters love having Kelly and so I think it’s going to be really fun in the fall.”
Lexi Rodriguez said everyone on the team was stoked by the news. Cook himself said a few of the players had an even stronger reaction than normal excitement. The news has also been a big hit on the recruit trail as coaches began contacting 2025 recruits on Thursday.
“A couple of our players cried and then they said they didn’t believe it,” Cook said. “The recruits are just kind of like, they’re in shock. So it’s a big deal. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes — they’re 17, 18, 16 years old, and here’s the greatest player ever in this country talking to you and is going to coach you, and it’s pretty intimidating in a way. So I think they’re in awe.”
The returning Huskers got a taste of being around Larson last fall as she seen time working out with the team in preparation for her club season in Italy.
“She had such an impact,” Rodriguez said. “Even just getting to watch her play, she didn’t always have to say anything, but just getting to watch how she plays, watch how she presents herself, I think everyone from last year’s team learned a lot from her. And then what she says, she has so much knowledge of the game that any feedback she’s giving you is really impactful.”
Cook has been recruiting Larson to the coaching world for years, but Larson’s time back with the program last fall really set the gears in motion as Cook got the impression she was finally ready to take that next step, even though the desire — and opportunity — to continue her playing career remained.
“She’s had a challenging year; her lifestyle is challenging in a lot of ways,” Cook said. “People don’t really understand that, how hard that is. But I saw how happy she was in our gym. Before she left I said, ‘You feel good here, don’t you?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to make this happen.’ That’s when I said, ‘I think this is what’s coming down the pipe, snd so let’s keep talking,’ and it worked out. So I think it’s great.”
Larson said “home” has been a lot of places throughout her professional career, but Cook said Larson reestablished her roots back in Nebraska last summer and believes she wants to settle back in her home state as she nears the end of her playing days. Couple that desire with the addition of a third full-time coaching position in Division I volleyball, this Larson joining Cook’s staff was a win-win for her and the program (especially considering she was planning to serve as a volunteer coach anyway, according to Cook).
“It’s great when we’ve got somebody who’s playing at the highest level in the top league in the world and trying to play for the Olympics, and then she’s in our gym,” Cook said. “Can you imagine? It would be like if the football team had Tom Brady out here or some of those guys, or Michael Jordan’s hanging out with our basketball team and helping those guys. She has a different presence and a different feel and a different look how she sees things and she’s a great communicator. She’s going to be a great coach.”
Cook highlighted two main areas in which Larson can really help the Huskers: her perspective as far as how she views the same and what she sees on the court and the mindset required to compete and succeed at the highest level. While she won’t officially join the team until late September, she’s already begun coaching from afar.
“That’s a great thing with Zoom and being able to talk wherever we are in the world,” Cook said. “She may be in Korea next week, but she’s already building the relationship with our outside hitters. She watches the video, gives them feedback. And like she mentioned in her press conference, with Volleymetrics now you can do a lot of stuff on there. You can draw stuff, write stuff, she can say ‘Hey, look at this play here, check out your footwork.’ So you can get it get a lot of coaching done without actually being physically there, and Jordan is a master at that because she has been using Volleymetrics for years.
“So right now it’s about building the relationships that she started before she left and and she’s going to work hard at that. She has been on all of our sessions that we’ve had and we’ll continue to have those with her, and she’ll be here in September.”
Larson is the next in a long line of former players who have returned to coach under Cook, which means more to him than all of the wins and conference titles he’s accumulated as a head coach.
“The greatest reward is when I see our players go into coaching or come back here and coach,” Cook said. “It’s been Kelly [Hunter], it’s been Kayla [Banwarth], it’s been Dani [Busboom Kelly], Lindsay [Peterson], Laura Pilakowski was our strength coach for several years. So to me that is the validation for everything that I try to do in coaching. That validates for me that we’re doing the right things if they want to come back and be a part of this and put up with me some days.
“Jordan had a great line: she said she wants to help the next generation of volleyball players. We can use that in recruiting because we are recruiting the next generation of volleyball players in this country for the Olympics and the national team. A lot of these kids aspire to that, and the fact that she wants to give back … It’s inspiring to be around people like that that have been doing it so long and they still have that [passion and fire], and I still feel like I have it as a coach. So it’s fun to be around passion and people that want to be great. It validates and it’s the biggest reward for me.”