In terms of NU’s recruiting class, Rhonda Revelle has reason to celebrate.
By Randy York
When it comes to accelerated recruiting, Bo Pelini, Tim Miles and Connie Yori all sing from the same hymn book. All three Nebraska head coaches know their search for talent is an ultra-quickening process, and with high school kids across the country committing earlier than ever to college scholarships, coaches have no choice but to rev up their own pace.
That brings us to a head coach who may understand the art of accelerated recruiting as well as anyone in America … Rhonda Revelle, the Hall-of-Fame coach who’s won 754 softball games at Nebraska and counts two state Gatorade Players of the Year in the program’s seven-player 2012 recruiting class.
And get this: Emily Lockman, who pitched Norco to the CIF Southern California sectional championship and the No. 1 final national prep ranking en route to her statewide Gatorade honor, committed to Nebraska when she was just a sophomore in high school. The Huskers’ other Gatorade Player of the Year, Nebraska’s own Alicia Armstrong from Beatrice, committed to Nebraska before her senior season, and that was no small task because the Lincoln Journal-Star Super State softball captain also earned all-state recognition in two other sports – basketball and soccer.
Yes, the Huskers relish the successful recruitment of Lockman, their California dream, but they were equally enthused about convincing Armstrong to play softball instead of college basketball, even though she did elect to play in next month’s Nebraska Coaches Association’s All-Star Girls Basketball Game instead of accepting the same honor in softball, the athletic and academic ticket to her future.
Perhaps we also should mention that Nebraska Coach John Walker considered Armstrong a potential soccer recruit. “Who makes first-team all-state in three sports?” Revelle asked. “When it’s all said and done, Diane Miller (the Nebraska assistant in charge of the Huskers’ offense) thinks Alicia (a shortstop) may be the rawest athlete she’s ever seen. Her athleticism is off the charts. I just talked to her club softball coach, and he said that now that she’s focusing just on softball, she’s taking a leap forward almost every week. She’s a remarkable athlete, and he says he’s never coached a kid with her kind of speed.”
As much as Miller craves coaching Armstrong, who hit a state record .690 as a senior on a state runner-up team, imagine how eager Lori Sippel, Nebraska’s associate head coach and pitching coach, is to coach Lockman. Check that. Even though Sipple has not “coached” California’s Gatorade Player of the Year, she’s been instrumental in the prep senior’s remarkable transformation over the past 18 months.
Make no mistake. Revelle doesn’t want Nebraska to take an ounce of credit for Lockman’s rapid development because she’s done all the hard work required to make such dramatic improvement. The truth is, however, “Emily has been a student of her pitching coach at Nebraska before she even got here, so I have to give Lori some credit,” Revelle said. “Lori and Emily have had a lot of dialogue – a lot of Q&A kinds of emails – over the past two years, and to Emily’s credit, she’s just taken it, embraced it and just kept getting better and better. Both Emily and her club coach have seen a real difference in her presence on the mound and in her ability to command and control a game. It’s been fun to watch her evolve and grow, and it will be even more fun to watch when she gets here.
“We’ve watched Emily grow and mature as a pitcher over the last two years,” Revelle said. “She’s always had great competitive moxie. Actually, I’ve watched Emily since she was probably 14 years old. She’s not physically imposing, but she just keeps coming at you. She has great self-belief, a lot of confidence and is a fierce competitor. That’s her biggest strength – she’s a competitor. You listen to the coaches who’ve been with her, whether it’s her club coach, her high school coach or even coaches who have competed against her, and they’ll all tell you how much she’s improved over the last 18 months.”
The constant connection between Nebraska and its latest California superstar only reinforces Lockman’s decision to become a Husker. But that kind of trust is hardly an isolated case. “We’re such relationship people. We know what we’re looking for, and we’ve developed similar relationships all over,” Revelle said.
Relationship No. 1 continues to be Nebraska Gold, the club team for both Armstrong and Husker senior Megan Southworth. The deepest example of Nebraska’s commitment to relationships is the Corona Angels in California, coached by Marty Tyson, whose daughter, Dawna Tyson will follow in sister Tori Tyson’s footsteps this fall. She joins Corona teammate Lockman in the 2012 recruiting class. Corona also sent twins Tatum Edwards and Taylor Edwards to Lincoln in 2010.
The same principle applies to Nebraska’s Desert Thunder connection in Arizona, where Sammi Noland will join former club teammate Mattie Fowler, one of only three Huskers to start all 55 games this season despite being just a freshman. Club connections make great bridges to Nebraska, which also just recruited incoming freshman Hailey Decker from the same Northwest Bullets club team in Oregon as junior infielder Kylee Muir. Revelle isn’t afraid to go South either with new recruit Gabby Banda following Jordan Bettiol from the same Sudden Impact club team in Texas.
“Recruiting happens so much earlier in this day and age, so you have to work with the coach a lot, and I’ve learned to trust the coaches in the recruiting process,” Revelle said. “When the kid is not right down the street, you have to believe what they’re telling you, whether it’s scholastically, socially or athletically. Once you feel like you’ve developed relationships where you have trust, well, now, it even compounds. That’s what happened with Emily, who gave us her verbal commitment in the last part of her sophomore year. And that’s not uncommon. That gave us two years to work together, so we could continue to prepare her to be a Husker.”
No wonder Revelle and her staff were so giddy recently when they watched Lockman win the California championship game to solidify the school’s No. 1 national ranking. “We got online and watched because it was a dead period in recruiting,” Revelle said. “It was fun to watch Emily face hitters who had committed to schools like Texas and Michigan and Arizona and Cal – all teams that were playing in the Women’s College World Series at the time. Every time those hitters would come up, we’d say: ‘Perfect. These are some of the same hitters we’re expecting Emily to face in college.’ The way we look at it, it’s always a bonus when you can play on a big stage before you even get to the big stage.”
Consider this a prime-time example of accelerated recruiting and a positive result of a promise Revelle made to herself when she gave up her duties as Nebraska’s Senior Women’s Administrator (SWA) to concentrate full-time again on the sport she loves the most. “When I was the SWA,” Revelle said, “the one thing that took the biggest hit was recruiting. There are only so many hours in the day. So when I came back to full-time coaching, I promised myself that every day I would recruit, whether it was making a phone call, writing an email or anything else. Some days, you recruit all day, but not a day goes by when I don’t or we don’t do something for recruiting.”
Anyone who doesn’t believe that recruiting and relationships are inextricably linked should consider this: Armstrong’s mom and dad are Nebraska graduates. So, too, are a brother and a sister. She even has an uncle who played football at Nebraska.
Revelle makes sure she points out that Lockman has relatives in Nebraska, too. “Emily came here as a 12-year-old visiting her relatives,” Revelle recalled. “She was a little munchkin at the time, but she came up to me as a 12-year-old and told me she wanted to come here and play someday. She reminded me of that when she made her official visit here.”
And what an important reminder that was. Six years later, that fiercely competitive little 12-year-old was mowing down future Division I players and giving Husker fans a sneak preview of a promising future. Oh, how the years go by, and oh, aren’t we grateful that Rhonda Revelle believes in accelerated recruiting?
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