Admittedly, during the early days of her attempt to play both college volleyball and women’s basketball for Nebraska, Maggie Mendelson wasn’t up to speed on everything the hoops team was doing when she joined them full-time in December.
However, she was aggressive in her return to the court, and that’s a good place to start.
So in her first games with the Husker basketball team Mendelson went hard to the basket a lot, got fouled and made her free throws — converting 10 for 13 attempts combined in her first two games.
“That’s all you can do at that point,” Mendelson said. “If you don’t know the plays you might as well just try and go get a rebound and try to get fouled.”
Mendelson is about nine months into being part of both programs. That’s a big ask on its own, but Mendelson is doing so as a 17-year-old in one of the best conferences in the nation for both sports. Last year she moved up her graduation year, and she won’t be 18 until April.
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She came to Nebraska from Ogden, Utah, accomplished in both sports, having won gold medals for the United States junior national team in both volleyball and basketball.
“The coaches have been helpful with me transitioning back and forth,” Mendelson said. “We’re getting through it.”
During the volleyball season Mendelson was mostly focused on that sport, but one or two times per week she'd get in some basketball work. She’d run on a treadmill, or work on her shooting with basketball assistant coach Tom Goehle and a student manager.
Before she joined the basketball team full-time, Mendelson was able to attend about five games and sit on the bench.
That included one Friday night when the volleyball team played at 6 p.m. and the basketball game was at 8 p.m. Mendelson got two kills and two blocks against Iowa, and then arrived at the basketball game during the middle of the first quarter.
The volleyball season ended on Dec. 8, and 10 days later Mendelson played in her first Husker basketball game.
During her first practice this winter she was surprised at how well it went.
“I just remember being excited to be back out here,” she said.
The sport where Mendelson experienced the biggest adjustment from high school to college is basketball — both for the speed the college game is played at and everything you need to know.
“The first couple of games I think I knew three plays, and those were the three plays that we ran when I was in the game,” she said. “Now I know the plays at least, but the defense is a little foggy sometimes. But we’re figuring it out.”
Mendelson has got to experience postseason play in both sports already. She played in Nebraska’s first match in the NCAA volleyball tournament against Delaware State, and played well with four kills and four blocks.
And during Nebraska’s first game in the WNIT on Wednesday she had four rebounds and one blocked shot against Missouri State while playing limited minutes due to three quick fouls.
“It’s just such a cool opportunity to be able to keep playing after the regular season is over,” Mendelson said. “It’s been awesome to be on two teams that are so good.”
Some of the tallest players in college volleyball also played basketball when they were young, but stuck with volleyball because they didn’t like all of the contact in basketball.
But Mendelson likes the aggressive part of the sport.
“From volleyball it’s a different level of competition,” she said. “Being able to go out there and fight for it physically, instead of doing it from the other side of the net, that’s awesome.”
Soon after the basketball season ends Mendelson will shift back to volleyball – the team has four weeks of spring practice and one spring match. Mendelson will likely compete with freshman Andi Jackson for a chance to join Bekka Allick as the Huskers’ starting middle blockers this fall.
Mendelson believes she can keep up with the demands of playing two sports.
“I think so,” she said. “My coaches have done a really good job of making it easier, so I think for now the goal is to play all four years.”
In basketball Mendelson plays the same position as two of Nebraska’s best and most experienced players in Alexis Markowski and Isabelle Bourne. Still, Mendelson has 10 games when she’s played at least eight minutes.
Mendelson scored nine points and had nine rebounds in her second and standout game — Nebraska’s three overtime win against No. 20 Kansas.
She’s encouraged by how much she’s improved since joining the basketball team, even if sometimes that's shown more during practice.
Basketball coach Amy Williams likes what she’s seen from Mendelson.
“We haven’t had a ton of experience with having this situation where she’s coming from high-level volleyball into the middle of season,” Williams said. “We knew that probably that learning curve in that first year is going to be the largest. But now she has a great feel for our system and our team and our defensive schemes and the things that she’s going to need to be able to do.”
Williams has witnessed that the tall (6-foot-5) and athletic freshman can be a tough matchup defensively.
“We see in flashes during practice where she’s just able to really get around even the best male practice player defenders we’ve got with ease,’” Williams said.
* Nebraska hosts Northern Iowa in the second round of the WNIT at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The game is not on TV, but a live stream of the game will be available for subscribers of BTN+. General admission tickets are available for $5 (adults) and $3 (youth/seniors).
* Nebraska was ranked 43rd in the NET (NCAA evaluation tool) rankings, and UNI was 62nd.
* Northern Iowa coach Tanya Warren and Williams are each in their 16th season as a college head coach and each enter Sunday with the same number of career wins (306). Warren has done it all at UNI, while Williams previously coached at Rogers State (Oklahoma) and South Dakota. Warren played college basketball at Creighton and got her start as a high school coach at Omaha Duchesne and Boys Town.
* Bellevue West graduate Taryn Wharton has played in all 32 games as a freshman for UNI, scoring 142 points.
Northern Iowa (23-9); ppg.
G – Maya McDermott 5-6 So. 14.5
G – Emerson Green 5-10 So. 11.4
G – Kam Finley 5-9 Sr. 8.4
F – Grace Boffeli 6-1 So. 16.3
C – Rachael Heittola 6-3 Jr. 3.6
Nebraska (17-14); ppg
G – Jaz Shelley 5-9 Jr. 14.5
G – Maddie Krull 5-9 So. 6.1
G – Sam Haiby 5-9 Sr. 11.0
F – Isabelle Bourne 6-2 Jr. 12.3
C –Alexis Markowski 6-3 So. 12.3
Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or email@example.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.