Winkelmann picks NU volleyball over hoops
By Chad Purcell
World-Herald News Service
July 26, 2011___________________________________________________________________________
LINCOLN — It was mid-May — exactly six months after Nebraska volleyball had signed its 2011 freshman class to letters of intent — when Huskers coach John Cook flipped through his Sunday newspaper and bumped into one of his incoming recruits.
Inside his Parade magazine, Cook found Shelby Winkelmann mingling with the best girls high school hoops players in the country. Winkelmann long ago had committed to play volleyball at Nebraska, but now here she was listed among the elite of the elite — basketball stars who were going to play for programs such as UConn, Stanford and Tennessee.
All of the players on the Parade honor roll had their college choices printed next to their name. Winkelmann, of course, had Nebraska listed, but it wasn’t for basketball.
Cook couldn’t help but wonder whether maybe — just maybe — Winkelmann had second thoughts after receiving this latest round of lofty recognition.
“So I called her,” Cook said, “and said, ‘Are you sure you want to play volleyball?’”
Winkelmann says she’s sure.
A 5-foot-9 dynamo from Rhineland, Mo., Winkelmann has been on NU’s campus since early June, getting to know her new teammates and getting acclimated to college. The Huskers, set to debut in the Big Ten in 2011, will start practicing in August in preparation for the new season.
For Winkelmann, the conversations about why she’s playing college volleyball instead of college basketball aren’t new. In fact, they’ve already grown kind of old.
“It happens almost every day that somebody asks me why I’m not going to play basketball,” Winkelmann said. “But Nebraska has such an amazing volleyball program and such great tradition. The No. 1 goal for Nebraska volleyball is winning, competing at the highest level and having that passion. That’s always been my No. 1 goal, too.”
It also helped that the Huskers started recruiting Winkelmann for volleyball — and showed serious interest in her services — before many basketball coaches began wooing her, too.
She made her unofficial visit to Nebraska at the beginning of her junior year. The Huskers offered her a scholarship, but said they couldn’t wait long without knowing her intentions. By November 2009, Winkelmann told Cook she was on board.
The schools recruiting Winkelmann for basketball included Missouri, Northern Iowa and Creighton.
“I really do love volleyball and basketball the same amount,” Winkelmann said. “Before I got the offer from Nebraska, I was sure I was going to play basketball in college — that was pretty much set in stone, and that’s what I was thinking. Then Nebraska happened and things changed. Some people may think it’s odd. But it’s not their decision, it’s mine.”
The Huskers have a history of turning standout athletes into standout volleyball players, even those who built the bulk of their rsums on the basketball court. Outside hitter Christina Houghtelling, a second-team All-Nebraska basketball player in 2003 at Cambridge High School, would win national player of the year honors before her NU volleyball career was done.
Current Husker senior middle blocker Brooke Delano — a first-team AVCA All-American in 2010 — was a coveted basketball recruit at Bellevue West.
But Winkelmann’s journey will be different in a couple of key ways.
For one, volleyball was never really her secondary sport. She started playing hoops as a fourth-grader, but she said she became as serious about volleyball just two years later.
And unlike Houghtelling and Delano, Winkelmann isn’t coming to Lincoln to hammer kills and put up blocks. As a defensive specialist or libero, Winkelmann hopes to help the Huskers win with her passing and digging — skills critical to team success but often overlooked by the casual fan.
Cook said Winkelmann could be a candidate to redshirt, because it’s never certain how quickly a freshman might be able to adapt to the college game. But the coach sensed something special in Winkelmann when he started scouting her, and he said he’s excited about her potential to make a difference with the Huskers, be it right away or in the future.
“She did some really amazing things in high school, both in volleyball and basketball,” Cook said. “She’s a really great all-around athlete, and she’s a really fierce competitor. She just has that look in her eyes that you see in the great ones.”
The people who know Winkelmann from Hermann High School wouldn’t argue with Cook on any of those points.
In hoops, Winkelmann as a senior averaged 28.3 points, eight rebounds, five assists and three steals per game.
She led the Bearcats to a 26-6 record and a runner-up finish at the Class 3 state tournament. She averaged better than 21 points per game all four years of her prep career, and she ranks No. 2 in state history with 3,226 total points.
She drained 55 points in one game, and went 22 for 22 from the foul line in another.
In addition to the Parade honors, Winkelmann was Gatorade’s Missouri basketball player of the year as a senior, and she also earned the 2011 Miss Show-Me basketball award.
“She was going to have opportunities at the Division I level, whether she picked basketball or volleyball,” said Hermann girls hoops coach Todd Anderson. “Nebraska put that opportunity for volleyball on the table, and you just can’t turn something like that down. I can’t imagine a scenario where she doesn’t go there and do well.”
In volleyball, Winkelmann was named to the 2010 Under Armour Girls’ High School All-America watch list before helping Hermann win its second Missouri Class 2 state championship in three years.
A four-time all-state selection, Winkelmann averaged better than five kills per set in high school while hitting at a .500 clip. For her career, she set the school record with 1,453 kills, and she also had 256 solo blocks, 224 aces and 885 digs.
Winkelmann also competed in track, and academically, she ranked No. 1 in her graduating class.
“It really was an honor and a privilege to coach Shelby,” said Hermann volleyball coach Linda Lampkin. “We knew Shelby was going to be a special athlete, probably going all the way back to when she was in the third grade. I’ve coached at Hermann for 32 years, and in all that time, we’ve not seen anyone like her. But she really was such a great role model, both on and off the court, and that might be what sets her apart the most.”
Cook said it says a lot about Winkelmann’s character that she’s coming to NU to play a position that isn’t exactly glamorous. The spotlight no doubt could’ve been brighter for the freshman had she decided to keep putting the basketball in the bucket instead of trying to keep volleyballs from hitting the floor.
Then again, if there’s one group of fans who appreciate the little things that make a volleyball team click, it’s the ones who bleed Nebraska red.
“I’m really excited,” Winkelmann said. “I’m going to play my hardest and work my hardest to get into that lineup, one way or another.”
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