Nebraska officially welcomed its 2021 recruiting class into the program on Wednesday as all six commits signed their national letters of intent on the first day of the early signing period.
The class, ranked first nationally by PrepVolleyball.com, includes Eagan (Minnesota) setter Kennedi Orr (ranked1st nationally), Omaha Skutt outside hitter Lindsay Krause (No. 2), Seven Lakes (Texas) outside hitter Ally Batenhorst (No. 3), Sterling (Illinois) libero Lexi Rodriguez (No. 10), Waverly outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein (No. 16) and Elkhorn South middle blocker Rylee Gray (No. 70).
“In the summer of 2017, we decided to run a camp and call it the Dream Team Camp,” Coach John Cook said in a release. “We invited our top recruits in the class of 2021. Well, a little over three years later, their signing day has now arrived. All of them have taken different paths to get to this point and some verbally committed at the camp or soon after. The three days of camp were awesome. Bonds were formed and intensity was high. We had a blast coaching the kids at the camp. We have enjoyed watching their development over the last three years and getting to know them as student-athletes.
“Because of their accomplishments on the national and world stage, the expectations will be very high, but that is why you go to Nebraska. When they start in 2021, they will be freshmen, figuring out how to be away from home, adjust to college life and Husker volleyball. We will make sure they ‘Dream Big’ and understand the song lyrics, ‘To whom much is given, much is tested.’
Per PrepVolleyball.com: “There is not much room for disputing that the Huskers have the top-ranked class in 2021. With six athletes all ranked within the top 70 nationally, this class boasts players at the top of her respective position, experience in the USA Volleyball pipeline, on podiums at national club events, and they even have more room to develop. This 2021 class will make a big mark on the future of the Nebraska program and, collectively, it has the size and strength to make it the best current group of seniors.”
Minnesota delayed the start of the high school volleyball season, but Egan is off to a 7-1 start with Orr running the show. She’s been starting at setter for the Wildcats since the end of her seventh-grade season and is a two-time Minnesota Volleyball Gatorade Player of the Year. The 6-foot setter led Eagan to five straight state championship matches and two titles (2015 and 2016).
“Kennedi comes in as the best leader/setter in the country as well as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country according to PrepVolleyball.com,” Cook said. “She was named the Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year twice and is a winner on all levels. Her high school team won two state championships and was the runner up three times. Her club team won the 17U gold medal at the 2018 USA Volleyball National Championships, a tournament in which she was named the Most Valuable Player. She also brings a bunch of international volleyball experience with her, playing for the USA Youth National Team. Kennedi will have an impact on this program as a leader from day one both on and off the court.”
Krause led the SkyHawks to the program’s sixth straight Class B title last week as Skutt finished 35-1. As a senior, the 6-foot-4 Krause averaged 5.2 kills, 2.9 digs and 1.1 aces per set while hitting .475. For her career, Krause totaled 1,449 kills on .411 hitting. Krause took home Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year honors in 2019 and was named an AVCA Under Armor First-Team All-American on Wednesday.
“Lindsay Krause is another top recruit from the Papillion-La Vista area that has decided to play for the Huskers,” Cook said. “She has led her Skutt Catholic High School team to four straight Class B State Championships. She was the Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019 and an Under Armor All-American in 2020. She also brings in some international experience as she was a part of the USA Youth National Team in 2018 and 2019. We expect Lindsay to come in and compete for playing time at outside hitter from day one.”
Batenhorst was also named an Under Armor First-Team All-American on Wednesday, though Seven Lakes’ season is still going. She lives in Houston, Texas, but was born in in Omaha and her mother, Susan attended UNL. The 6-foot-4 outside hitter is a four-year varsity contributor and a three-time team captain for Seven Lakes. As senior, Batenhorst is averaging 6.5 kills per set on .336 hitting. She’s totaled 2,143 kills, 1,232 digs, 242 blocks and 160 aces to this point in her career.
“Nebraska-born, Texas-built Ally Batenhorst is another huge part of this recruiting class,” Cook said. “Having the ability to play all across the front and back row makes her very multidimensional. We expect Ally to come in and compete for playing time at outside hitter from day one.”
The 5-foot-5 Rodriguez set a school record for career digs at Sterling with 1,618 (7.2 per set) despite playing just three seasons; Illinois canceled the 2020 high school volleyball season, so Rodriguez did not get to play as a senior. She was named the 2019-20 Illinois Volleyball Gatorade Player of the Year and led the Golden Warriors to Class 3A state tiles in 2018 and 2019.
“Another top recruit at her position, Lexi is the best libero/ball-handling player in the class of 2021,” Cook said. “She was named the 2019 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year and her Sterling High School Team won the 3A State Championship in 2018 and 2019. MaxPreps named her an All-American twice and named Lexi the Best Player in Illinois in 2020. Lexi played club for the powerhouse Sports Performance Club. Her teams were national finalists four times and they won the gold medal three times. She was named an AAU All-American three times. Lexi was named to the USA Volleyball Youth National Team in 2018 and 2019 and was a member of the 2020 USA Junior National Team.”
At 6-foot-2, Lauenstein was a bit of a late bloomer compared to the other members of the class but rose to top-20 status nationally. She led Waverly to three state Class B state tournaments including this season after averaging 5.6 kills per set on .339 hitting. As a junior playing alongside setter Anni Evans — a freshman walk-on at Nebraska — Lauenstein averaged 4.9 kills on .407 hitting. In three varsity seasons, she totaled 1,366 kills on .338 hitting.
“Whitney has been a fast riser in the recruiting rankings in the past year and a half,” Cook said. “Three years ago, she came to Husker Camp and she was a middle blocker. After that camp, she switched positions and her stock has skyrocketed. A long, physical outside hitter with a live arm, Whitney became one of the most intensely recruited players in the class of 2021 following her sophomore year.”
The final member of the class is Gray, the 6-foot-4 middle blocker from Elkhorn. She led the Storm to the school’s first state championship last week, capping a 30-1 season. Gray averaged 4.8 kills on .442 hitting and 1.2 blocks per set as a senior. She finished her four-year varsity career with 1,383 kills on .423 hitting, 476 blocks and four state tournament appearances (two in Class B, two in Class A).
“Rylee Gray comes in as one of the best middle blockers in the country,” Cook said. “She has the innate ability to be a shutdown blocker. Rylee is another in a long line of Husker recruits who were multi-sport athletes in high school as she is a star on the Elkhorn South basketball team. She plays with an endless motor and has been getting better each year.”
Orr, Batenhorst and Rodriguez are planning to enroll at Nebraska in January while the three in-state recruits will follow in the summer.
“We look forward to getting them all on campus and start building a team that embraces working together and building ultimate trust,” Cook said. “At Nebraska we get everybody’s best shot and that is why we say, ‘the only easy day was yesterday.’ Husker Nation will have fun following the journey of this large recruiting class. They are talented, passionate and driven to excel on and off the court.”
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.