Maggie Mendelson may not fully understand the difficulty of what she’s doing, but her new teammates do.
Playing one college sport is a mental and physical grind and only offers about two months off each year. Mendelson, a Nebraska freshman, is going to play two.
That journey started one month ago when the volleyball middle blocker and basketball center arrived in Lincoln to begin summer school, basketball practice and strength and conditioning workouts.
And she’s joining two of Nebraska’s most successful programs from last season — the volleyball team made it to the national title match and the basketball team reached the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Mendelson will be with the volleyball team through the end of its season in December. Then she’ll get two weeks off before joining the basketball team for the final 2½ months of its season.
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Currently, Mendelson is working on both sports. Most days she’s with the basketball team each morning lifting weights and practicing. Then about three times per week she gets in some reps with the volleyball team.
“My teammates are always telling me how impressed they are with me, which means a lot because they’ve done some incredible things,” Mendelson said. “They’re always like, ‘Oh, you have volleyball today?’ They’re like, ‘How?’ I don’t know. I just do it. It’s been awesome to have their support because I’m not going to be able to do this without them. It’s been awesome to know that they are going to help me make this work.”
Mendelson was a big get for both programs, and one of the highest-ranked recruits ever for the basketball program. She has played for the U.S. youth national team in both sports. She’s the No. 4 national recruit in volleyball and No. 32 in basketball.
From Ogden, Utah, Mendelson was the state’s Gatorade player of the year for volleyball as a junior.
Mendelson was set on finding a school where coaches would allow her to play both sports. Her finalists also included Texas, Minnesota and Washington. With a 4.0 grade-point average, she could have gotten into Stanford, but the coaches there didn’t think playing two sports was a good idea.
Mendelson moved up her high school graduation one full year, going from the 2023 class to 2022. Her 17th birthday was in April.
She attended her high school graduation ceremony on May 23, and about one week later, she left for Lincoln. Later this week she’ll go to a tryout for the under-19 national volleyball team (six Nebraska commits will also be there).
Here is more from Mendelson in a Q&A on a variety of topics:
Last summer, on one of the first days college volleyball coaches could go on the road to recruit, John Cook went and watched you. What did you think of that?
MM: “He came up and watched the Triple Crown in Salt Lake City where me and my team were playing. The chairs were all around the court and I just remember him being the first person there. I was like, ‘Oh, that’s John Cook. No way.’ I was kind of fangirling over him at that point, because, I don’t know, he’s the best. And then a couple of days went by and he called me. I told him thanks for coming, and he was like, ‘Yeah, you were one of the first (recruits) I came to see,’ and that was special to me.”
What was involved with you graduating from high school one year early?
MM: “Nothing too crazy, but I had to double up on a couple of classes. I didn’t know I was going to reclassify until (October), so I had to do it real quick. So I took two English classes at the same time, and I took a couple of online classes. And then I cut out my study hall for a different class.”
Why did you want to start college one year early?
MM: “A couple of reasons. My high school volleyball team had a couple of things going on, and I just felt like it would be better for me to move on. I’m excited where I’m at now. I miss home, and everything there, but I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”
What was the reaction from the Nebraska coaches when you said you were going to move up your enrollment year?
MM: “I’m sure they were a little iffy at first, but they never let me feel like that. They were always confident and said that I’d be welcome and they’re ready to take me when I come. It was comforting knowing that whenever I show up they want to have me here.”
Last November you committed to coach Amy Williams and Cook in person, which is pretty rare. Why did you do that?
MM: “I just knew that the opportunity they’re giving me is super-special, so I just wanted to show them how much I appreciated it. I’m big into relationships, and that was one way I could show how much I wanted to be here.”
It was while you were attending a Nebraska women’s basketball game that you posted on social media that you had committed to Nebraska (even before Williams knew). How did you tell Cook?
MM: “We drove into Lincoln on a Saturday morning and we walked right into (Devaney) and I called Coach and said, ‘Hey, do you want to walk down to the gym? He was like, ‘Do I want to walk down to the gym?’ I told him to just come down. I had a box of Crumbl Cookies — because if you know Coach he loves Crumbl Cookies. I committed to him then. It was cool to be able to do that in person. And then I headed over to the basketball game.”
Were you more surprised to make the U.S. youth national team in basketball or volleyball?
MM: “Both. I didn’t know I could make both in the first place. To show up and make the basketball team, which was first, those girls are awesome. They practice basketball every day. As a girl who practices basketball every other day — just because I have volleyball practice — it was kind of surprising that I could still hang with those girls. And then I got to volleyball. On the last day, I had no idea if I was going to make it or not because the level of talent was so good. When they called my name to make the team I was so happy.”
Your dad is a sixth-grade teacher, and your mom is a social worker. What do they think of you leaving home early?
MM: “They’re excited about the opportunity. They’re a little sad. I’m the baby, so they’re kind of empty nesters now. But they got a (camper), so they’re going to come down here a lot so it will be nice to see them during the season.”
This summer you have roommates from both teams — basketball’s Callin Hake and Bekka Allick, and Hayden Kubik from volleyball. How has your first month as a college student-athlete been?
MM: “The life has been fun so far. We go to the dorms and we hang out with our friends. It’s just been awesome to get to know the other freshmen from the football team and the basketball team. And living with Callin and my volleyball roommates has been a cool opportunity. And then going to school, it’s a little bit different because it’s on my own time and I have to get things done. It’s been kind of an adjustment, but it’s been easy with the way they have things set up here.”