Early enrollees are becoming more and more popular for football programs. Graduating from high school early and enrolling in college allows athletes to go through spring ball and get a head start on preparing for the following fall, and since football is a one semester sport it doesn’t impact eligibility.
Like football, volleyball is typically a fall sport, and as such John Cook’s recruits have the ability to take advantage of the early enrollee routes well if they so desire. Last year, Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles both enrolled early and participated in the spring beach season and offseason training, and they both were day-one starters when the 2019 season rolled around.
This is anything but a typical year, however. The indoor season has been bumped back to 2021, running Jan. 22 through April 25. No beach season and no spring exhibition, and 2021 recruits won’t be eligible to play regardless of when they arrive on campus.
Even so, three members of Nebraska’s highly-touted 2021 recruiting class are planning to enroll early: setter Kennedi Orr, outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and defensive specialist Lexi Rodriguez.
“They’re going to get nine months to prepare for the fall season,” Cook said during a Zoom call with reporters. “With that, they get over being homesick, they learn how to be on their own, they learn how to train properly in our weight room. We can actually build their bodies up instead of just kind of throwing them into the fire. They get to learn a lot about volleyball. Just think, those players, who they’re going to be around every day. They’re going to be around All-Americans, great players, so it’s just going to force them to go to another level. To me, it’s a great opportunity for them to get a head start.”
Batenhorst, the third-ranked player in the country according to PrepVolleyball.com, is in the middle of her senior season at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas. Orr, the top-ranked recruit in the country and a native of Eagan, Minnesota, will begin her final season later this week after the Minnesota State High School League reversed course on its decision to postpone volleyball to the spring. Rodriguez, No. 10 nationally, wasn’t so lucky, however. The Illinois High School Association also postponed fall sports to the spring semester, which means Rodriguez won’t get to play her senior season for Sterling High School.
Enrolling early means the future Huskers will be skipping their final year of club ball as well, assuming that season goes forward in the spring. They won’t get the chance to get some in-game action under their belts like they might have gotten the chance to do during the beach season, but they’ll get a chance to learn from a hall of fame coach and some of the best players in the country. The advantages extend beyond the court as well.
“Then academically, they’ll have 18 credits finished by the time they start their freshman year,” Cook said. “So some of them that want to take advantage and get a master’s degree, it works out great because they can do all that, get ahead, and most of them get college credit in high school honors classes, so for those that are serious about school, it gives them a great opportunity to get a master’s degree and be way ahead of the game. It’s huge if they’re up for that, and there are some consequences for that — they miss the spring semester of their senior year, but all these guys will be able to go back for graduation and do all that because we’ll be out of season by then and on break.”
Batenhorst will get a chance to learn from the likes Lexi Sun, Jazz Sweet and Kubik. Orr will get to study under Nicklin Hames. Rodriguez will observe Knuckles. And they’ll all get to see how All-American middle blocker Lauren Stivrins goes about her business.
The early enrollees add to what should already be a deep team. Nebraska is set to have five outside hitters, five defensive specialists, four middle blockers and four setters in the practice gym — 18 players in total. Cook’s still working out how exactly to balance practice reps for everyone, but one thing is for sure: they’ll all get plenty of work.
“That’s what we’ll have to figure out,” Cook said. “Those guys won’t play, so we hope they raise our level of play and the ones that want to come in early and get here, we’ll train them just like we train all of our players. You’ve seen our practices — everybody’s going. They’re going to get training for free. They don’t have to hire those guys for private lessons any more.”
Cook has long been a proponent of moving the volleyball season to the spring, and the added preparation time for incoming freshmen is one of many reasons for that. Because of the unique circumstances in 2020, three of Nebraska’s six 2021 commits will get to experience what basically amounts to a redshirt season without costing them a year of eligibility or their free redshirt, and that should serve them well heading into fall of 2021.
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.