The University of Nebraska women’s basketball program recently signed Leavenworth High School senior center Rachel Blackburn to play forward for the Huskers in Lincoln starting in 2015.
But, Pioneers head coach Derek Zeck said the Cornhuskers are not getting an ordinary post player.
At 6-foot-3, Blackburn is already a challenging player to face in the paint. When the center is also leading the team in charges taken, averaging almost one a game, she's a force to be reckoned with, he said.
“It’s kind of unheard of,” Zeck said. “You have somebody 6-3 in the lane and people driving in the lane and she’s taking charges and blocking shots. That makes a big presence inside.”
After the initial recruiting process was finished, Blackburn narrowed her choices to Nebraska, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Wake Forest.
At that point, she said her decision became much easier.
“It was very humbling, just because I got so many letters from a bunch of different colleges around the country,” Blackburn said. “Nebraska was always at the top of my list, and I was really close to them.”
With a strong fan base and one of the top recruiting classes of the last two years, Blackburn said she knew for a while she’d end up at Nebraska.
With her signing, she became the first player of her class at Leavenworth to sign with a college for basketball, though she won’t be the last.
Senior forwards Tashia Jones and Tyler Johnson are both in talks with Division I programs.
Jones has been getting recruited by Kansas State, Texas Tech University and Wake Forest, while Johnson has narrowed her choices to Iowa State and Kansas.
Zeck said the team’s summer play helped with college exposure, but the team’s 5A state title last year is what shifted recruiters’ attention to the Pioneers.
“(Our players) were already getting quite a bit of looks with the summers they had last summer,” Zeck said. “Winning a state championship definitely solidifies with the college coaches that these kids are really good players.”
Recent changes to NCAA women’s basketball recruiting regulations permit coaches to start speaking to recruits earlier, which Blackburn said was leading to more early signings.
Zeck said with multiple players on his roster looking to sign this summer, it could be a cause of concern with the team looking to win back-to-back state championships.
“That’s obviously a concern when players get their commitments and they sign early,” Zeck said. “When coach is on your rear, are you going to be able to push through or are you going to say, ‘I got mine, forget it?’ Though I think with the character of kids we have, that’s not going to be a problem.”