LINCOLN — Kira Larson said she knew she wanted to become part of the Nebraska volleyball program after spending about five minutes on campus. But her parents, preaching prudence, urged their daughter to take a deep breath and see what other schools might have to offer before making her college choice.
So the 6-foot-3 middle blocker from Fargo, N.D., did some comparison shopping. She visited Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa State, always weighing her suitors against the first place she had visited.
“Every time I visited another school, in the back of my head, I was like, 'I want to go to Nebraska. This is not as good as Nebraska,' ” Larson said.
Larson gave her oral pledge to become a Husker two summers ago, and Wednesday she was able to make her decision official along with five other decorated prep volleyball players who signed their letters of intent to play college volleyball at Nebraska. The six-member class will be the largest ever signed by coach John Cook, pending clearance from the NU athletic compliance office.
The signees figure to comprise one of the top five recruiting hauls in the country, according to John Tawa, owner and publisher of PrepVolleyball.com. Besides Larson, the NU class includes three high school teammates from the juggernaut Papillion-La Vista South program, a back-row specialist from California and a middle blocker from Germany.
“This class is loaded with elite-level athletes, all of whom either have elite club level or national team experience,” said Tawa, who ranked four of the Husker recruits among the top 25 high school seniors in the country.
The group is headlined by twin outside hitters Amber and Kadie Rolfzen of Papio South, who committed to Nebraska before even playing a high school match. The 6-3 Rolfzens have been the talk of the local volleyball community for four years, leading the Titans to three straight Class A state championships while racking up national accolades and playing on the USA Junior National Team.
Kadie Rolfzen, the 2011 National Junior Player of the Year, is listed at No. 5 on PrepVolleyball.com's Senior Aces list, while Amber checks in at No. 8. Both plan to graduate from Papio South a semester early to join the NU program in January.
The Rolfzens will be joined by classmate Kelly Hunter, the Titans' 5-11 setter and the nation's No. 13 recruit according to the Senior Aces list. The trio led Papio South to a 119-1 record over the last three seasons and also played together on the Nebraska Juniors Club team.
Larson, the No. 23-rated recruit according to PrepVolleyball.com, is a raw but dynamic athlete who could play either middle blocker or outside hitter at Nebraska. She set school records for career kills, blocks and aces for Fargo North High School and is a state champion in the high jump. She said she would try to continue the high jump on the Nebraska track team, which played a key factor in her decision to come to Lincoln.
“Whether that works out or not, I don't know yet, but I wanted to be the one that makes that decision,” Larson said. “I didn't want a coach to say, 'No, you can't do that.' ”
Nebraska added another back-row specialist with the signing of 5-6 Justine Wong-Orantes of Cypress, Calif., who could eventually take over as the Huskers' libero. Wong-Orantes was a four-year starter at Los Alamitos High School and is a standout beach player, having appeared in the 2011 World Youth Beach Championships in Croatia.
Another middle blocker, Melanie Keil from Berlin, Germany, also sent her letter of intent to Nebraska on Wednesday morning. The 6-foot Keil committed to NU last spring and has played extensively for the German Youth National team.
Cook said he also is trying to recruit walk-on members to the class in addition to Wednesday's signees. The coach could not comment on any particular recruit until the newcomers are approved by the compliance department, but did say it was a physically dynamic group that should come to college already highly skilled.
“All those kids have played a lot,” Cook said. “So it's an athletic group, they're experienced, and those kids have played a lot of volleyball.”
The 2013 class essentially is filling two recruiting cycles in one year for the Huskers, who saw three freshmen from last year's team leave the program. Combine those departures with the graduation of five seniors from this year's club and it could mean several of next year's newcomers will be counted on to play right away.
Among the seniors NU will need to replace are starting outside hitters Gina Mancuso and Hannah Werth as well as three-year starting setter Lauren Cook.
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