LINCOLN — It got real the summer before ninth grade for Kennedi Orr. She, along with some of the nation’s best volleyball talent, rolled in for Nebraska’s Dream Team camp. At that moment, the player who would become the No. 1 prospect in the 2021 recruiting class was among giants of the sport who had just come off a national title.
“I was probably pretty intimidated and a little nervous,” the future Husker setter said. “That was the first summer I went to these college camps to be recruited instead of just for fun. I knew I had to show up and do good.”
Orr showed up and showed out. And most of the players who comprise one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in college history — volleyball, basketball, any sport — were there, too. Five of the six 2021 commits, as Orr recalled. She was there, of course, the player whom Prep Volleyball would name the No. 1 prospect on Monday. Omaha Skutt outside hitter Lindsay Krause, the nation’s No. 2 prospect. Katy (Texas) Seven Lakes outside hitter Ally Batenhorst and Sterling (Ill.) libero Lexi Rodriguez, Orr recalled, attended as well. They’re the Nos. 3 and 10 prospects, overall.
Everybody hit it off, Orr said. The bond started there.
“I thought, ‘If all of these girls commit, then I’m going to commit, too,’ because I loved it at Nebraska,” Orr said. “That’s how it all got started.”
Four straight trips to the NCAA Final Four, including two national titles, have paid recruiting dividends above and beyond the wildest expectations of Nebraska volleyball fans.
NU’s 2021 class doesn’t just have the top player in the nation, according to Prep Volleyball. Nor does it have just the top two players.
It has the top three players.
It also has two more in the nation’s top 16, and a sixth player ranked No. 70.
In Prep Volleyball’s latest rankings, Eagan (Minn.) setter Orr is No. 1, Krause is No. 2 and Batenhorst is No. 3. Rodriguez is No. 10, Waverly outside hitter Whitney Lauenstein is No. 16 and Elkhorn South middle blocker Rylee Gray is No. 70.
Orr — whose close friend, Kendall Coley, is committed to the NU women’s basketball team — is such a coveted setter that Nebraska could afford to turn down two in-state setters ranked among the nation’s top 50 players. Skutt’s Allie Gray is headed to Arizona State, and Wahoo’s Elle Glock is headed to USC.
How good is Nebraska’s class? For context, Penn State’s 2014 class had five members ranked in the nation’s top 15, but it didn’t have the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 overall players. (That PSU class won the 2014 national title, but Nebraska’s 2013 recruiting class, with Kelly Hunter and the Rolfzen twins, performed better over a five-year time frame.) The 2016 Stanford class, which won three national titles, had the Nos. 2, 3, 14, 22 and 31 players.
In women’s basketball, there’s no immediate comparison. Connecticut’s legendary three-player class in 2012 had the nation’s Nos. 1, 2 and 6 players and won four straight national titles.
In men’s basketball, the best-known comparisons are Michigan’s Fab Five — which had four of its members rated in the top 10 and all five in the top 25 — and Kentucky’s 2009 group, which had the Nos. 1 and 2 players in the nation in John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.
Whether Nebraska’s class materializes into the kind of success the 2013 class had remains to be seen.
Creighton volleyball is compiling its own strong recruiting class with one of the nation’s top setters, Gardner (Kan.) Edgerton standout Kendra Wait. She’s the No. 7 player in the nation. Two other Bluejay recruits — Papillion-La Vista outside hitter Norah Sis (No. 28) and Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Xavier outside hitter Eve Magill (No. 31) — are also ranked in Prep Volleyball’s top 50.
The rankings will be adjusted one more time, but ongoing evaluations could be tricky because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The bond among the six Husker recruits stays strong, Orr said, through a group chat that keeps them talking “as often as we can.”
Naturally, the setter feels like she’s the facilitator of the chat.
“I don’t know if I feel responsible for it but I know I really like to do it,” Orr said. “I like to bring us all together and start conversations and stuff.”
The nation’s No. 1 prospect is allowed to take a little initiative.