By Lincoln Arneal
Tonight the Nebraska women’s basketball team will kick off its year with an open scrimmage and concert by Waka Flocka Flame.
However, one of its most prized recruits – Maggie Mendelson – won’t be at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Instead, she will be 1,300 miles away in Piscataway, New Jersey, with the third-ranked NU volleyball team facing off against Rutgers at 6 p.m. at the Jersey Mike’s Arena.
Mendelson, who entered college as the No. 4-rated volleyball recruit and No. 32 basketball prospect, is embarking on a rare double dip as she plays two sports for the Huskers. Just as she settles into her role as a contributing role for the No. 3 ranked volleyball team, she will also start ramping up for basketball.
“They’ve all been in practice sending me videos and stuff,” Mendelson said. “It’s kind of sad that I’m not there, but I’m excited to be here (with the volleyball team).”
In June, Mendelson worked out with the basketball team to learn its system’s basics. She left in early July to represent the U.S. national volleyball team in the U19 Pan Am Cup and finally joined the volleyball team for fall camp in August.
The 6-foot-5 freshman entered the season fighting for a starting spot at middle blocker with classmate Bekka Allick. She started the second match of the season versus Tulsa, but Allick – who got a leg up by enrolling in January – emerged as a viable threat in the middle and hasn’t let go of the position.
However, after Ally Batenhorst suffered an injury on Sept. 7, Mendelson switched positions to the right pin and has played as the second opposite hitter in NU’s 6-2 system. She is averaging 1.2 kills and .72 blocks per set in her new role.
Before making her debut against Long Beach State, she only worked as an opposite for a few days in practice before stepping into that role in a match. However, Mendelson played the position in high school and with her club team, so it isn’t completely foreign to her.
“It’s a lot different than high school. The outsides are way bigger and swing a lot harder, so it’s definitely been a learning adjustment,” Mendelson said. “The new blocking system that they have out there for me is gonna work, and I just need to learn how to do it.”
Sophomore Lindsay Krause, who has bounced between the left and right pins this year, said she’s impressed with how Mendelson has handled moving around the court. Krause said she appreciates Mendelson’s willingness to do whatever she can to help the team.
“We’re big on supporting our teammates, no matter what and through everything,” Krause said. “She’s taken it like a champ and we’ve all been with her every step of the way.”
NU coach John Cook said Mendelson’s mindset and competitiveness are the secrets to managing her busy schedule and playing at an elite level.
That streak comes through late in sets when Cook said Mendelson is at her best. She scores most of her points after the set gets to 20 points. Against Ohio State, Mendelson slammed home the final kill in the fourth set and celebrated with an emphatic fist pump.
“She’s still young, but we’ve thrown her into kind of a new spot. She doesn’t care,” Cook said. “She wants to play and she competes. That’s her gift.”
When asked how competitive she is, Mendelson said on a scale of 1 to 10, she is an 11.
“I feel like I’m really competitive,” she said. “I feel like you have to be all in to be able to play at this level and against all these great teams that we’re playing. I know it’s almost a little too competitive, but I would say it’s a good thing.”
With the basketball season getting underway, Mendelson is about to get busier. On top of her academics and volleyball practices, the Ogden, Utah, native added basketball practices weekly with assistant coach Tom Goehle.
While it might seem like a lot, it’s an old habit for her as she’s balanced playing both sports simultaneously for most of her life.
“It’s kind of a whirlwind starting pretty fast, but I’m just grateful to be here and grateful that they’ve given me this opportunity,” Mendelson said. “I guess it’s always been a puzzle trying to get school, volleyball and basketball done, but I get it done somehow. Not really sure how all the time, but it gets done.”
Basketball coach Amy Williams said the basketball staff is having fun watching Mendelson contribute with an elite team during the fall. Williams keeps her updated about what the basketball team is doing and lets her stay updated with what they are working on.
Williams called Mendelson an incredible athlete. She mentioned that she has great timing, springiness and that she’s coachable. As eager as she is to work with her, Williams said she hopes Mendelson doesn’t join basketball practice until late December.
“When she is able to play in the national championship game with our volleyball team, then (she will) have a little bit of time to recover her body,” Williams said. “Once she reports back to women’s basketball, we’ll be welcoming her with open arms.”