Nebraska volleyball coach John Cook says he’s not concerned about the latest, and one of the largest, group of departures from the program.
In March, Kira Larson, Maddie Haggerty and Alexa Ethridge informed Cook they wanted to transfer. Outside the program, there was concern, but it's not as though they were regular starters. Larson and Ethridge have since transferred to Missouri. Haggerty is going to Central Florida.
Then in May, NU announced that Melanie Kiel would transfer to Florida State. That was a bigger immediate loss. Keil started 13 matches last season, and Nebraska is lacking depth now at middle blocker.
After the season, Cook met with each of his players. That’s usually when some players end up transferring. But it was after the sand volleyball team's trip to Hawaii that Cook says players came forward to request transfers.
Cook says roster departures are making the coaching staff continue to tweak how it recruits, including how early coaches offer a high school player a scholarship, and how thorough of job they do in evaluation.
Cook said he anticipated that players might leave after last season.
“I think the biggest thing is playing time,” he said. “I think kids figure out, ‘OK, who is coming in; who do I have to beat out?’ We have a really young team, so if I’m not playing now, what makes me think I’m going to play next year, or the year after? So do I want to be a backup, or do I want to go somewhere I can play?”
The rush of transfers in all sports makes Cook appreciate a player such as NU outside hitter Alicia Ostrander, who walked on, redshirted, and is now crushing kills in big matches.
“Here is a kid who is willing to prove herself, and now is going to have ended up on a volleyball scholarship, a basketball scholarship, a two-sport athlete, when she turned down all kinds of things,” Cook said. “That’s the beauty of her, and she’ll be a legend here. That (2013) class was so big, Melanie and Kira for example, realized ‘I’m not sure where I’m going to play.’ Meghan Haggerty and Cici Hall are here another year, (first-team All-America transfer Briana Holman) is here, we got another middle coming in next year.”
Should Nebraska fans be concerned four players transferred in one season?
“No,” Cook said. “Should fans be concerned that Kentucky basketball had seven leave (for the NBA Draft)? Are people concerned that Kentucky is not going to be any good next year, or kids won’t go there? No. They all had great reasons to leave. And the year before, with Sheridan Zarda and Brenna Lyles, they had two very personal reasons to leave.”
Lyles, a serving specialist, had gone from walk-on to a scholarship athlete at NU. Following an illness in her family, Lyles transferred to Texas State to be closer to home.
Recently, Cook said, the NU staff got word that Lyles' family had a setback when storms in Wimberley, Texas, caused damage to their home and Lyles’ car, just as she was getting ready to return to college. The NU players and coaches wanted to help.
“We called our compliance people and asked what we could do to help,” Cook said. “All the coaches chipped in and got some gift cards to Wal-Mart and different places so she could get school supplies. We still care about these kids, even when they leave. Yeah, it looks bad when people leave, but we’re still helping them, and still take care of them and talk to them. She had a very good reason why she left.”
Players transferring to NU, such as Kelsey Robinson and Mary Pollmiller, and earning starting jobs has also probably caused some to leave.
Cook said Nebraska has adjusted its recruiting.
“We’re trying to take more time now, and we’ve lost some kids because we won’t offer them as a ninth-grader, or even early in their 10th-grade year,” Cook said. “We feel like we want to see how they develop; they have to figure out what they really want. If they’re going to make an emotional decision, and take their first offer and go somewhere, then well, great. We want to try and limit the mistakes and make sure this is a good fit."
During the recruiting process, the NU coaches have to tell prospects they’re capable of playing for the Huskers. But sometimes it doesn’t work out when they don't see action until three or four years later.
Maddie Haggerty and Larson each came to NU as top-25 recruits, and Keil played with the German national team.
“Recruiting is really difficult, and the reality is there is a certain type of student-athlete who fits in really well at Nebraska, and our job is to find those student-athletes and make sure we got the right ones,” Cook said. “I think that’s probably the lesson that we learned, and when they get here, it’s how they develop, and their development over their junior and senior years (of high school). Some kids blossom, and some plateau, and that’s the unknown in the whole thing.”