After spending the 2019 season as a graduate assistant, Kelly Hunter made her assistant coaching debut this spring during the beach season. With new assistant Tyler Hillenbrand completing his Team USA duties, Cook elevated Hunter to an interim coaching position.
In addition to helping Jaylen Reyes coach the beach team, her new role also brought with it recruiting responsibilities, a big step forward for Hunter in her coaching career. Decked out in Nebraska gear, Hunter hit the recruiting trail in February to scout out future Huskers.
That lasted all of about two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut sports down across the world. Hunter talked to Hail Varsity recently about her experience in recruiting and having it all come to a halt shortly after it began.
“It’s been interesting because when I think back about the couple of weeks that I went recruiting and all that, it seems like it was so long ago and it kind of was,” Hunter said. “My first tournament was when the recruiting period began in the middle of February. It was fun to go on the road and experience recruiting. Obviously, Coach Cook has done this for a really long time and he’s really good at it and Jaylen is just a social butterfly, can talk to whoever and he can be going, going, going all day long so I was really excited to get to learn from them.
“Now it’s obviously really different. We’re just doing Zoom calls and recruiting is hard because there aren’t any tournaments going on. It’s mostly just watching film and talking with some of our girls who are committed, stuff like that. It’s definitely really interesting. I enjoyed being on the road and recruiting and all that, but I feel like just as quickly as it happened it was just as quickly shut down.”
Hunter spent two weeks on the road evaluating prospects and checking in on commits along with the other Nebraska coaches. The whole staff went to the Triple Crown tournament in Kansas City Feb. 14-17 where the staff got a chance to see recent commit Keonilei Akana play. Hunter also took a quick trip over to St. Louis that week to check out another tournament. She also went to a tournament in Louisville before the club season — and recruiting live period — came to an abrupt end.
“The first trip it was actually really fun to see a lot of other coaches and people that I know in the volleyball world, just because all of our GAs and Data Volley people have gone on to get really good assistant jobs, so that was definitely fun, just catching up with them,” Hunter said. “I felt like the first day it was like I could hardly even watch because someone else was like ‘Oh, hey Kelly, what’s up?’ It’s just fun to walk around and see all the levels and talk to club coaches and stuff like that and just figure out how it’s all going to go because for me, everything was so new. I would try to ask Jaylen for advice as much as I could because he’s awesome at recruiting. It was just cool to be back in a gym and in a different role and trying to find my way through recruiting.”
Recruiting can be a difficult job, but Cook’s reputation and Nebraska’s success made it a bit easier for Hunter to draw attention from the players.
“Just being at Nebraska and being at such a high level program, it’s like you can tell when the athletes notice that you’re on their court,” Hunter said. “It’s kind of cool. I’m very lucky to be at such a high level program and be able to go to all these tournaments.”
Even though Hunter’s time on the trail was brief, Cook told Hail Varsity it was a valuable experience for her to dip her toes into the recruiting waters.
“Until you do it, you have no idea how it works and how to do it,” Cook said. “You can stand there all day. She played in those tournaments as a player, but you play and go back to your hotel and hang out with your buddies. It takes a while to figure it all out and get an eye for talent and make the connections. It would be nice if we could continue with that but hopefully at some point she’s going to have a chance to be on the road a lot.”
As one of the best players in program history, Hunter is very familiar with what good volleyball looks like. However, she had to adjust to recognizing it in much younger players.
“For me, the biggest thing was kind of watching younger ages and being able to evaluate them at a younger age because I’ve been around college volleyball and professional volleyball for the last six or seven years,” Hunter said. “The biggest thing for me was just talking with Jaylen or Coach and be like, ‘OK, on this court, what is something you would notice? Who would we notice the most?’ Stuff like that. It was kind of just training my brain to flip from the college level down to a lower level and still be able to recognize talent because obviously it looks a lot different than college volleyball.”
The shutdown has taken away a big opportunity for Hunter, but Cook still sees a bright future for her as a recruiter.
“We had great talks, we got to ride in the car back and forth to Kansas City, I think she got a taste of what it’s like, and she’s getting a taste of what it’s like to recruit now when you can’t go out,” Cook said. “Recruiting is a real art and it’s about connections and seeing things. Kelly has everything it takes to be a great recruiter. She just needs experience now.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.