By Lincoln Arneal
Since enrolling in January, the five members of Nebraska’s 2023 top-ranked volleyball recruiting class have made an immediate impact without playing an official match.
That’s according to Husker veterans who talked about how the newcomers have changed the tenor of the practice gym by raising the level of competition and inserted themselves into the competition for playing time.
During the last few weeks, each freshman appeared on the Huskers Radio Network and was interviewed by Jessica Coody. Among specific questions to each, the interviews hit on recruiting stories, settling into Nebraska, the Brazil trip and playing volleyball in Memorial Stadium.
Here are some takeaways from Coody’s interviews with the five newcomers.
After she was chosen as the Gatorade National Player of the Year, Harper Murray participated in the glitz and glamor of the ESPYs in mid-July.
The 6-foot-2 outside hitter learned of the Gatorade honor in January, the day before she moved to Lincoln. Winning the award became a goal after fellow Michigan native Jess Mruzi – who played with Murray’s older sister, Kendall, for the Wolverines – won it for the 2019-20 year.
“I was pretty close with her and I knew that was something that I wanted to do when I saw her win it,” Murray said. “So kudos to my coaches for helping me, and my mom for supporting me through all that.”
Murray is the fifth Husker player to win the national award, joining Ally Batenhorst (2020-21), Lexi Sun (2016-17), Mikaela Foecke (2014-15) and Gina Mancuso (2008-09).
Murray said during her interview that she still had a couple outfits she was deciding between, but she ultimately went with a red dress, perhaps as a shout out to the Huskers.
Andi Jackson is a big hockey fan.
She grew up in Alaska, but didn’t really get into the sport until she lived in Colorado and attended a few Avalanche games. However, once she was introduced to the Edmonton Oilers, she was hooked. She texted with her father during the Stanley Cup playoffs and enjoys watching Connor McDavid and Zack Kassian, among others.
Hockey is Jackson’s second favorite sport – behind volleyball – and she enjoys the speed of the game.
“It’s very fast and it’s a little bit aggressive, but I think I enjoy that part of it and obviously there can be fights,” she said. “But it never stops. It’s just go, go, go.”
Besides her sports watching, Jackson is also big into fishing, especially when she visits family in Alaska. She calls the landscape there “gorgeous” and that it “can’t be beat.” They like to hike, ride four-wheelers and fish. She also enjoys visiting attractions like the Salty Dawg Saloon in the Kachemak Bay town of Homer.
“You just can’t get bored in Alaska,” Jackson said.
Both Jackson and Laney Choboy said they were close to playing for Texas.
When Jackson made her first college list of 35 schools, Nebraska wasn’t on it. She said UT was her top choice, but a poor camp performance left her looking elsewhere. After a seed was planted by her club coach, former Husker Christina Houghtelling Hudson, Jackson opened up to Nebraska. She talked to NU coach John Cook on June 15 and committed a month later.
“I felt bad because they had been looking at me and I was just kind of being a little bit standoffish because I was so dead set on Texas,” Jackson said. “After talking with Coach (Cook) I just knew that’s the program I wanted to play for. That’s a coach I want to be playing for and like who doesn’t want to play for Husker Nation, getting to play at ‘The Bob’ in front of 8,000 people? So I had definitely kept in touch with him after that. And on July 14, after a Dream Team Camp, I just committed.”
Choboy only looked at two schools – Texas and NU – after decommitting from Minnesota with the news of an impending coaching change there. The Gophers wouldn’t announce a new coach until December so in the final weeks before signing day, Choboy hit the road. She only took two visits upon opening up her recruitment again and eventually gave Nebraska her pledge.
“It was pretty stressful. It was definitely not easy,” Choboy said. “With both of my parents being coaches, they were able to help me through that and they knew how to go about it. So I just kind of leaned on them and trusted that they knew what they were talking about. We got through it in a timely manner, but also very efficiently.”
Meanwhile Caroline Jurevicius had Nebraska as her top school since her seventh-grade year before the recruiting rules changed and didn’t allow coaches to contact prospects until June after their sophomore year.
She was close to committing as an eighth-grader, but her parents put the kibosh on that idea. They wanted her to explore her options and see what else was out there. She went to camps and learned about other schools, but in the end she still knew the place for her was Nebraska.
“It was just a matter of how comfortable I was with the coaches,” Jurevicius said. “There were some coaches where I would be pacing around the house on the phone, completely anxious. Then my mom pointed out to me that I’d be on the phone with Coach Cook and I’d just be lying on my bed completely relaxed and I didn’t even realize but it was just a little subconscious response to how I love the coaching staff and how much I respond to them.”
Her body also gave her a big clue to where she belonged. Jurevicius said she broke out in hives while thinking through the options and possibilities. However, when she was at Nebraska for Dream Team Camp, the ailment went away.
Jurevicious is in favor of the rules that delay recruiting conversations. Even though she ended up at her initial choice, the reasons for choosing a school evolve a lot in those few years, she said. She is also a proponent of sticking to a timeline and not letting schools dictate commitments or pressure prospects.
“I think giving them time to develop into who they are and who they will be in college a little bit more is really, really important,” she said.
All of the freshmen expressed their excitement to have Jordan Larson join the NU coaching staff, but perhaps none more than Murray, who will be coached by Larson at outside hitter.
Murray said she has looked up to the All-American and Olympic gold medalist since she was in middle school. While she didn’t plan to be coached by Larson, Murray said it will be a bonus and benefit her development.
“I got pretty emotional just because Jordan is another big reason why I came here,” Murray said. “Finding out that she was going to be a coach here for my time here is really special. I think me and a couple other players kind of got emotional because it was unexpected, but it’s gonna be really cool. I’ve talked to her a lot, and that’s kind of weird to say now, because before she didn’t really know who I was, and now she’s one of my coaches.”
Both Choboy and Bergen Reilly talked about how playing with older players impacted them. Choboy got her start playing with 13s when she was just 7.
Reilly said she played on her club’s 18U team as a 13-year-old and doing so helped her learn how to stay calm and control her emotions on the court – one of her biggest strengths as a setter.
“I knew that if I got in my head, if I got all frazzled that I was just not going to be able to perform,” she said. “I think it ultimately started with that and then once I kind of realized that that was my superpower, I really worked on it. I was very conscious of what I was doing. I knew that everyone was kind of looking to me to bring calmness to the team when we were in stressful situations or bring energy to the team when we were down. And so I think that it started from having to play with a bunch of older girls, but it also just kind of went from there and I had to work on it a lot.”
Many of the freshmen talked about the importance of siblings who helped them develop into elite talents. Murray cited her older sister, Kendall, who plays at Michigan. Reilly said her sister, Raegen, a setter at South Dakota State, was a big influence.
For Jurevicious, she learned a lot from her NFL-playing father, Joe. While he wasn’t into the fine-tuned details of volleyball, he developed some unorthodox methods for training, including swinging a sock with another sock inside of it to develop arm strength.
Jurevicius’ family will also be following her to Lincoln, but they are doing so for the benefit of Caroline’s younger sister, Ava. They weren’t happy with the club scene around Cleveland so they moved to Lincoln where Ava will play for Volleyball Club Nebraska and Lincoln Lutheran with 2025 NU commit Keri Leimbach. With her parents set to move to Colorado eventually, the move worked out well for everyone.
“She ultimately took the initiative herself which was so mature for a 15-year-old girl to do at the time and said, ‘I want to give myself the best shot I can,’” Jurevicious said of her younger sister. “It’s cool that I have the option to go see (my parents) and Ava’s thriving. My family’s happy. (Nebraska) was the final destination for me if you could say that and a stepping stone for my parents to get out West and then a launching pad for Ava.”