Nicole Drewnick doesn’t look like a typical freshman volleyball player even though she’s a back-up setter for the Huskers. Four inches taller than starting sophomore setter Nicklin Hames, Drewnick is a 6-foot-2 setter and believe it or not, she’s young for her class as she graduated high school a year early.
One part of recruiting that has picked up steam over the last couple of years is reclassifying to a year earlier. Reclassifying is when a recruit’s high school graduating year is changed to either a year ahead or behind the expected graduation year. The trend is seen most in college basketball, but reclassification is spreading to other sports like volleyball.
“College volleyball is getting more and more competitive, there’s more and more talent across the board,” Nebraska head coach John Cook said. “Some of these teams now are kind of merging out of the shadows a little bit and going to be big time teams this year.”
Drewnick is the youngest player on Nebraska which is a role she has held before. Specifically, the setter played for the Brazillian national youth team her junior year of high school. Unlike most volleyball players, Drewnick’s mom Cilene played for the Brazillian volleyball national team in 1992.
Her mother was not the only reason Drewnick got to travel and play in Brazil as a 16-year-old. Before that, Drewnick won back-to-back Class 6A state titles at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas as both an outside hitter and setter.
“Growing up with her, I’ve always looked up to her,” Drewnick said. “I wanted to follow her footsteps and we reached out to some of the coaches and made it happen.”
Drewnick’s background gave her a shot at international volleyball that many do not see at such a young age. Being a dual-citizen allowed Drewnick to get international experience in Brazil.
Her experience in Brazil let Drewnick figure out which position she wanted to focus on. Being 6-foot-2, outside hitter seemed to be the obvious choice as she fits the mold for the position. Instead, she decided to focus on her setting skills and tried to become a better passer.
“Then in Brazil, my main focus was setting so every day so that really prepared me to go to the next level,” Drewnick said. “It helped me mature.”
Drewnick’s training in Brazil paid off massively for her, but one issue was that she went during the school year. By the time Drewnick returned, the club volleyball season was ending and the high school season was long gone.
Back home in Texas, Drewnick took online classes which allowed her to graduate early. Her independence in Brazil made the rigidity of high school unappealing to go back to. This gave Drewnick two unusual choices for a 17-year-old: Go back to Brazil or head to Lincoln a year early.
“The main reason was just because I can get up here and start training faster, competing faster,” Drewnick said. “If I decided to go back to Brazil for worlds, which was in late June, I wasn’t doing high school volleyball anymore.”
Drewnick chose the Huskers over heading back to Brazil and the decision came just in time for her as she joined the rest of the team before its trip to Asia. Now, Drewnick is the backup setter to start the season.
Despite her limited time on the court, her place on the team is necessary. Depth at the setter position is thin but more importantly, Drewnick is a good influence at practice.
"She raises the levels of practice and Nicole can do a lot of things,” Cook said. “She’s a really good server, she can hit and she has to simulate other teams offenses.”
In practice, someone else who has helped Drewnick transition into college volleyball is Hames. The help ranges from understanding more of Cook’s system to knowing how to run the different drills.
Though she is a backup, Drewnick’s unique offensive skills has Cook wanting to get her on the court more often. Drewnick played in three sets last weekend, including the critical fifth set against San Diego.
The youngest player on the team has had one of the longest roads to get to Lincoln, but this is just the start for her.
“I’m so excited to continue to go and better my volleyball skills,” Drewnick said. “I want to be there for the team bringing the energy.”