LINCOLN — The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce may be happy to hear that it took only one September weekend in Nebraska to convince a beach volleyball star to play her college career in a place with little access to a beach.
Nebraska picked up a commitment this week from Justine Wong-Orantes, a 5-foot-6 setter from Los Alamitos, Calif., who will likely become a back-row specialist in college. She is the fifth known member of Nebraska’s class of 2013.
Wong-Orantes, who had been a known quantity on the beach volleyball circuit since her pre-teen days, chose the Huskers over Hawaii after taking an official visit to Lincoln during the final weekend of September and attending Nebraska’s four-set win over Michigan.
“It was just one of those moments where I instantly fell in love right when I got off the plane,” Wong-Orantes said. “The atmosphere was great. The teammates were very warm and welcoming toward me. I went to one of their practices, and the coaching staff is amazing. I love how their practices are run by Coach (John) Cook.”
Wong-Orantes, a four-year starter at Los Alamitos High School, said her official visit to Nebraska was the only one she would take. She had visited Hawaii’s campus unofficially when her high school team played there in a tournament this summer, but made up her mind Tuesday morning to end her recruitment.
It may come as a surprise that Wong-Orantes chose a landlocked school after a decorated beach career. She played in the 2011 Junior Beach World Championships in Croatia, where she met and befriended current Husker Alexa Strange, another touted beach player from San Clemente, Calif. But Wong-Orantes said after discussion with her parents, the lure of an indoor career at Nebraska was still strong enough even if NU does not start a beach program, which the school is still considering.
“Honestly, indoor is my passion to me,” Wong-Orantes said. “I just went with what was best for me.”
Los Alamitos coach Dave Huber praised Wong-Orantes’ defensive playmaking skills and high volleyball IQ. He said she will leave Los Alamitos with more victories than any other player in program history. She led the Griffins to a sectional championship last year and a 23-3 mark so far in 2012.
“I can’t say enough about her regarding her approach to the game, what she knows and what she sees on the floor,” Huber said. “I go to tell her something and she’s already seen it.
“In our match yesterday, she bump-set a ball back over her head 25 feet and it was perfect. That type of awareness and playmaking ability ... when things have broken down, she can make a play on the ball.”
Wong-Orantes said Nebraska first made contact with her at this summer’s Junior Olympics in Columbus, Ohio, where she was playing with her Mizuno Long Beach All-Stars club team. Wong-Orantes is usually the starting setter for her club team, but in Columbus, was pressed into duty as the starting libero to improve the team’s passing.
In her first match in the new position, Wong-Orantes caught the eye of then-Husker assistant Dan Conners, who is now an assistant at Illinois. She said she would likely play libero full time for her final club season before coming to Lincoln next summer.
Wong-Orantes joins four recruits from the Midwest in what may end up as the nation’s top recruiting class in 2013. Outside hitters Amber and Kadie Rolfzen and setter Kelly Hunter from Papillion-La Vista South have previously committed to Nebraska for next season along with middle blocker Kira Larson of Fargo, N.D. Each of those four are in the top 25 of PrepVolleyball.com’s 50 Senior Aces.
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