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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 19 2013

Ex-Bison volleyball standout sees big change in college recruiting

FARGO – When it comes to having a handle on all facets of the college volleyball recruiting world, perhaps nobody is more qualified than one of North Dakota State’s greatest athletes ever. And even Janet Cobbs-Mulholland questions the process.

The former United States Olympian and NDSU standout is an assistant coach in college and the mother of a junior high and a senior high player. Put it this way: It’s not like back in the 1980s when she committed to NDSU her senior year.

These days, that’s called being late to the scholarship party.

“You have to start doing research earlier,” said Cobbs-Mulholland, who is in Fargo this week working the NDSU volleyball camp. “I think you want them to do something they love to do.”

The assistant coach at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) – she took last year off – said she’s seeing colleges looking at kids at a younger age than ever before. NDSU head coach Kari Thompson agrees.

It’s made recruiting – and projecting talent – that much tougher. Thompson said the mold was broken a few years ago when two eighth-graders committed to the University of Nebraska.

They will be Nebraska freshmen this fall along with Fargo North graduate Kira Larson.

Thompson will be starting her third full season this fall after being named the interim head coach in 2010. Not coincidentally, she’ll be welcoming her first full recruiting class.

It takes three years these days.

“When we took over, we were already into this class that is coming this fall,” she said. “It’s becoming an accelerated thing.”

It’s becoming a tricky communication thing, also. NCAA rules prohibit colleges from contacting recruits until the beginning of their junior year in high school. It puts more of the onus on families and players, and it perhaps is also forcing more players to play just volleyball – and nothing else.

“I think kids are specializing too soon, which is disappointing,” Cobbs-Mulholland said. “I’ve seen more injuries, and I think that might have to do with them starting earlier playing one sport. There are not too many three-sport athletes like back in my day.”

Thompson said most of the recruiting communication with high school sophomores or younger is done through their coach. The only permissible contact from a school until their junior year is if the recruit makes a campus visit.

Thompson said she got an email from a seventh-grader last week.

“We know our big thing is identifying the ones who want to make that commitment early and see if that is something that potentially is a fit for us,” she said.

And even if players commit as high school sophomores, the process is far from over. Thompson said some bigger schools have been known to pull offers if the kid doesn’t develop as projected. She said some players simply lose focus on college volleyball, and want to do something else.

Or go to another school. Nothing is binding until a player signs a letter of intent.

Thompson said NDSU is finishing up its 2014 recruiting class. Some 2015 recruits will be on campus this summer. There has been communication with 2016 recruits.

All of that is not lost on Cobbs-Mulholland, whose oldest daughter is 16 years old.

“It’s taken on a whole new form now,” she said.

It’s probably one reason a former Olympian is content with being an assistant coach. She said it makes for more time in being a mother.

“I don’t need the high-level title to feel successful,” she said. “Successful is advancing student-athletes no matter what age they are.”

Or no matter what age they’re being recruited.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia