Notes and quotes on the Illini volleyball team's three-member signing class:
Illini volleyball recruiting traditionally has been an in-state and regional operation. That's what makes this latest signing class so noteworthy. Kevin Hambly and his staff attracted not one, but two recruits from California. It's a state loaded with talent - Hambly regards California, Illinois and Texas as the top three for producing elite players in the sport - and now the Illini have successfully tapped into the Golden State with the signings of Jennifer Bonilla and Jazmine Orozco.
Hambly still expects the majority of his program's recruits to come from the Midwest, but he also foresees a continuing national presence in future classes.
"With our ranking (No. 5), I think we can get a player from California or somewhere else that isn't a typical player because of the success we've had," he said. "We're getting more interest around the country."
That interest led to this recruiting breakthrough.
"It wasn't a conscious choice of ‘OK, let's get some kids outside of Illinois,' " Hambly said. "It just turned out that there's some very good kids in California that happened to be interested in us."
Hambly expects the signings of the California duo to have a positive impact on future recruiting attempts outside the Midwest. He said he's already seen it with a recent near-miss on a Texas prospect.
All three signees are ranked among the top 60 players in the Class of 2010 by Prepvolleyball.com. Middle blocker Anna Dorn of Munster, Ind., is rated No. 6 - the highest-ranked recruit ever to sign with the UI. Orozco, an outside hitter from Lakewood, Calif., is No. 33. Bonilla, a libero from Reseda, Calif., is No. 60.
Dorn, who stands 6-foot-3 and has remarkable leaping ability (she can touch 10-6), is the gem of this group.
"She is such a special athlete, like no one we've had yet in our program," Hambly said.
All three signees have extensive international experience through USA Volleyball's youth programs. Bonilla and Dorn were selected to the U.S. Girls' Youth National Team that competed in the 2009 world championships last July, although Dorn was forced to withdraw beforehand due to an injury. Last January, all three were members of a U.S. Girls' Youth team made a three-country European tour.
The fact that USA Volleyball previously identified each as being among the nation's best in their age group lends credence to comments like this from Hambly:
"This class may prove to be the best class we've had. ... I'm excited to see where this group takes us because it's certainly, top to bottom, the most talented class we've had."
Dorn has recovered from the stress fracture in her left foot that kept her making the world championships trip. After missing her high school team's first 15 matches this fall, she returned to lead Munster into the final 16 of the Indiana Class 4A state tournament series.
With the prep season over, Dorn is training with the highly regarded Sports Performance club team in the Chicago area.
Hambly wouldn't be surprised if all three newcomers crack the playing rotation next season.
"And that's saying a lot with the talent we have now," he said.
Bonilla, who committed to the UI as a sophomore, has long been viewed as the heir apparent to current senior Ashley Edinger at libero.
Dorn is expected to strengthen an already solid middle-blocker position, where current starters Johannah Bangert and Erin Johnson both return next season.
"She's just a great athlete and it's going to be hard to keep her off the floor," Hambly said of Dorn. "I could see us doing a three-middle rotation, so they can get some rest because that's a real tough position. And we've talked to (the returning middles) about that already and they're kind of prepared for that."
Orozco arrives at a time when one of the two outside-hitter positions is opening up following the departure of current senior Kylie McCulley. Hambly expects the 6-1 Orozco and current freshman Jessica Jendryk - who is redshirting this season due to an ACL tear - to vie for playing time alongside outside hitter Laura DeBruler.
Hambly says Orozco is a taller version of All-American DeBruler with better blocking skills.
"She's a very explosive, long, lean athlete," the UI coach said.
With only two seniors leaving the team after this season, where did the third scholarship come from?
From current freshman Jackie Wolfe. The 5-9 setter from Wheaton signed with the UI last November with the understanding that her scholarship would be guaranteed only for her freshman year.
Although three players signed with Illinois on Wednesday, Hambly views this class as five deep. That's because two other players will join the active roster next season: Jendryk and setter Annie Luhrsen, who was forced to sit out this year after transferring from Connecticut. In 2008, she was named Big East Freshman of the Year.
"It's like we're really adding five," said, who expects some heated battles on the practice court in 2010.
"The level of competition in our gym will be really, really high," Hambly said. "And that's what you need for us to take the next step in our program."