Jade Demps kept a private list with six schools on it. There was Stanford, UCLA, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky and the University of Wisconsin.
Demps, one of the nation’s top prep volleyball players in the 2020 recruiting class, had systematically narrowed her options to those six after visiting numerous schools around the country. She had told others of her finalists, but never talked about any particular order.
Even her mother, Keisha, a former All-Pac 10 middle blocker at Arizona, didn’t know how the schools were ranked, although she had been forming her own secret list as well.
And then late last week mother and daughter compared lists.
“The common thing was we both had Wisconsin on the top,” said Jade Demps, whose last remaining obstacle was to overcome her indecisive nature.
“For awhile I had really liked them and I figured if I had to commit then I would say Wisconsin,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure I really had it all figured out. I was waiting for that one day when I’d go, duh, totally I know for sure I want to go there.
“But I’m very indecisive in general so I realized that that probably wasn’t going to happen so I was just going to have to decide. I was like, yup, I’m pretty sure I’m ready. No regrets.”
She decided to make it official by calling UW coach Kelly Sheffield on Sunday. But she also wanted to have a little fun with him.
“When I called him I wanted to trick him a little bit,” Demps said. “We talked a little bit and then I said, ‘Hey Coach, I just wanted to thank you for letting me get to know more about you and your program and I’ve had a great time learning about it all but I just wanted let you know I’ve made my decision.’
“Normally, that means, sorry, but I’m going to commit somewhere else. So he said where do you want to go? I said, ‘Well, I want to be a Badger.’ He was like, WHAT! He was so happy.”
By all accounts, Sheffield had good reason to be excited.
Demps, a 6-foot-2 outside hitter from Raleigh, North Carolina, is considered one of the premier six-rotation players in her class. She averaged 4.1 kills and 2.5 digs per set with a .339 hitting percentage as a sophomore at Broughton High School.
“She is a treasure,” said Broughton coach Jim Freeman, who also coached former UW All-American Haleigh Nelson. “She’s unbelievably mature and has great character. I don’t know anybody that doesn’t love her.
“She’s a very gifted athlete. She’s like a kid you would design in a test tube. She’s really smart and talented and gifted in so many ways. She was born with great athletic gifts. But what she’s done with it and how she takes care of her business, she’s just a classy, elegant, humble kid. A remarkable girl.”
That, he said, was obvious from the moment she played her first varsity match as a freshman last year. Broughton was trailing 23-18 when Demps went back to serve and reeled off seven straight points, including three aces, to win the set.
“That’s a kid who wasn’t even 14 yet at the time,” Freeman said. “I was sitting there wondering how she was going to handle this. Pretty incredible. I would’ve gagged all over myself in that spot at her age. Not her. She didn’t blink.”
Freeman said that Demps has the powerful arm needed on the left side and also excels with her back row skills.
“And I really think she’s only scratched the surface of how good she can be,” he said. “I think she’s so gifted she’s going to keep emerging and emerging into one monstrous player.
“I really can’t wait to see what she does up there. I really admire the environment Coach Sheffield has established, the culture there, and I’m very excited to see how she keeps improving when she gets up there. With Haleigh, that’s exactly what happened with her. It was the perfect petri dish for her to explode into this player she became.”
Like Nelson, Demps also plays for the Triangle Volleyball Club. During the recruiting process, she contacted Nelson to learn about her UW experience.
“I’ve talked to her and texted her,” Demps said. “She told me about being a player at Wisconsin and how much she loves the program and had such an amazing time.”
Demps said her mother, who also coaches at Triangle and was an assistant coach at Nevada, Boise State and North Carolina State, tried to keep her away from volleyball as a youth to prevent burnout. Jade held out until she was 10, but she also got to experience other sports and was a USA Junior Track and Field All-American in the pentathlon (100-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 800 meters).
Demps, who is interested in the UW veterinary school, said she is determined to keep developing her volleyball skills so that she’ll be ready to jump right in when she arrives at UW.
“I know that the game changes a lot from high school and club to college,” she said. “It’s way faster and I want to start off on the right foot. I know serve receive is way different. You could be a great passer for club but when you get to college the ball comes way faster.
“I want to work really hard so for the first game I’m ready and I can go out and play. Your coaches can get you so far but part of it is what you do yourself. I want to work extremely hard in any extra time I have so I can be the best that I can be. Because I feel like the best that I can be is pretty great.”
She also views that potential as a gift not to be wasted.
“Honestly, I feel blessed,” she said. “I think about this a lot. Out of all the people in the world, out of 7.5 billion people in the world, I’m a person who has all these great opportunities. I’m a person that’s been blessed with great talent and I feel like I could do something great. I think that’s crazy.”
In her case, crazy like a Badger.
“After looking at the list of things I wanted in a college, they had everything that I wanted,” Demps said. “I love the coaching staff and built a very good relationship with the coaches. The culture, I love that.”
Demps becomes the third member of the 2020 recruiting class, joining M.J. Hammill, a 6-foot setter from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana; and Devyn Robinson, a 6-1 middle blocker from Centennial High School in Ankeny, Iowa.