Shoes squeaking and the smell of fresh popcorn set the stage for the Minnesota State Volleyball Tournament. Kennedi Orr and the Eagan Wildcats were two points away from winning their second state tournament in three years. Orr set the Prior Lake serve to fellow star, Mckenna Melville, and the crowd erupts when the ball smacks the ground. Drinks go flying. The bench clears as the coach is doused by Gatorade. And the year has come to a close.
Three months passed, and Eagan was playing its third game of the year. All Orr had in her mind was repeating as state champions, but instead she would have to watch from the sideline with a torn ACL in her senior season.
As a result, Orr chose to graduate early and come to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Despite the impact of the coronavirus, changing schools and recovering from injury, the No.1 recruit, according to PrepSports, could not be slowed down.
Now she sits on the sideline for Huskers Volleyball.
Orr began her career playing for Eagan High School, a volleyball powerhouse with a Hall of Fame coach, Kathy Melville.
“I am proud of my career at Eagan,” Orr said. “I got the chance to play with so many different players because I played varsity volleyball since 7th grade. I loved the program at Eagan, and it wasn’t all about winning for me during my high school career.”
Being a young talent, Orr helped the Eagan Wildcats to two state championship titles in four years, one against Prior Lake and one over Champlin Park.
“Being on a state championship team is the cherry on top for my career, there is nothing more exhilarating than winning a title in front of your city,” Orr said.
Coach Melville said being a part of a championship team was, “like nothing else.”
“Coaching these girls to the highest level will always be one of my favorite things I’ve done in life,” she said.
During her summers, Orr traveled to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for volleyball camps and said she fell in love with the campus.
“I always wanted to attend a Big Ten school and Lincoln has one of the best volleyball teams,” she said.
She committed to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln her sophomore year of high school, which is “very early,” according to Coach Melville. Orr decided there and then that she would graduate high school a trimester early to come to Lincoln and be with the team.
“I always wanted to come to college early,” Orr said. “My sister, Bri, did this as well and I wanted to follow in her footsteps.”
“It isn’t that uncommon,” Melville said. “The coaches want them to get involved with the offense early, because they are such a big part of it.”
However, an ACL tear set her back to square one on her road to Lincoln.
“It was a shock when I got injured,” Orr said. “I had never had a major injury and one of this caliber can put you on the sideline for a year.”
Orr, described by her high school coach as “the hardest worker she has ever seen,” was not going to let this injury slow her down.
“She was so humble throughout the entire process,” Melville said. “She did not let the injury stop her from bettering herself as a teammate, and it let her see the game from a coaches perspective.”
“At first because of COVID-19, it was hard to get into rehab everyday in Minnesota,” Orr said “I was only able to get in three times a week, which is not enough when rehabbing an ACL injury.”
She rehabbed for about three months in Minnesota before she came to UNL, and the trainers said she was not where she was supposed to be.
“The trainers said I was shockingly behind,” she said. “They knew they had to change up my rehab plan, but that was hard to do with me transitioning to college life at the same time.”
The transition to college was smooth, however.
“I lived with the other three freshmen on the team and we weren’t allowed to play anyways because of COVID-19, so the injury wasn’t what was stopping me from playing at the time,” she said. “I was able to get a 4.0 my first semester of college as well.”
The trainers at UNL took it up a notch with her rehab. They wanted to make sure that she would be ready for her freshman season.
“When I got to the university, I was doing rehab seven days a week and the training staff just seemed to care so much about me,” she said. “I was given stem cells here at the university and that helped my rehab progress so much faster.”
The training staff along with help from others in the organization was able to get her up to speed. The rehab of her knee had been successful and she was now ready to compete for the Huskers.
Her first time on the court for practice Orr said her legs felt like Jell-O.
“It just didn’t feel natural to be out on the court because I haven’t played for a year,” she said. “My goal for the season is just to get back to the way I like to play volleyball, I want to take a backseat role and be the best teammate I can be.”