Last Thursday, the night before Nebraska started its Big Ten schedule with a road sweep of No. 2 Penn State, coach John Cook got a phone call that he thought was important enough to share with the Huskers.
Kennedi Orr repeated the message on speakerphone — she was ready to “Dream Big.”
“They sounded super excited,” Orr said. “They were clapping and cheering.”
With that, Nebraska found itself with a highly sought recruit in the Class of 2021, grabbing a setter with a Big Ten pedigree who already plays beyond her years for one of the country’s top club programs.
“She’s been a high school star since seventh grade,” said John Tawa, managing editor of PrepVolleyball.com. “Beautiful hands. Great delivery. Great knowledge of the game. Smooth athlete.”
The 5-foot-11 Orr is a freshman at Eagan (Minn.) High School but has been on the national radar for several years already. She played high school varsity as a seventh- and eighth-grader, helping Eagan High to the Minnesota 3A state championship last year playing alongside her older sister, Brie, who earned Iowa’s starting setter job as a freshman this fall.
Kennedi Orr won’t turn 15 until November but played on the 16-and-under team last year for Northern Lights, the Minneapolis club powerhouse, where former Nebraska All-American Cathy Noth is a setting coach. She plays both setter and hitter in Eagan’s 6-2 system, but is the lone setter in a 5-1 for Northern Lights.
“We actually try to discourage them from playing up (in age),” said Adam Beamer, who coached Orr’s club team last season. “But every once in a while it makes sense for a kid to play up, and for her, she was one of them.”
Beamer would know. He said the last Northern Lights player to play on an older team was his daughter, Minnesota setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who will face the Huskers on Friday night. The coach said Orr is a better athlete than her older sister, already touching 10 feet.
“She’s super strong, so she can do a lot with the ball even if her body isn’t in position,” Beamer said. “She can push the ball outside even if she’s off balance, which not a lot of kids can do.”
Orr attended Nebraska’s “Dream Team” camp this summer, where she said she bonded with Nebraska’s other two 2021 commits, outside hitter Lindsay Krause of Omaha Skutt and Alexis Rodriguez from Sterling, Illinois, and 2019 outside hitter Madi Kubik from West Des Moines, Iowa.
Orr said she also has played in a USA volleyball high performance developmental program with 2020 outside hitter Madi Endsley of Temecula Valley, California.
“I think I saw that Nebraska is a great program and always has been,” Orr said. “That was one thing that you want, to bring that intensity, I guess, to college volleyball. I thought I could bring it in a way by going there. I love the coaches and felt like I had a connection with them.”
Beamer, the club coach, said Orr was receiving interest from several of the country’s top programs, including Minnesota and Stanford, plus others who were trying to coax Orr into a campus visit.
But with a phone call last week, Orr cut short those competitors’ aspirations of getting her on campus. Lincoln’s the place she believes she can make her own volleyball dreams come true.
“Dreaming big to me means being good for Nebraska and beyond, so if I could, get the opportunity to play on the national team,” Orr said. “And making steps as a team toward a national championship.”
Minnesota at Nebraska
When: 4:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Bob Devaney Sports Center, Lincoln
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM