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The Gophers volleyball team received a key verbal commitment from Elena Hoecke, the 6-3 middle blocker from Centennial who plays club volleyball for Minnesota Select and is widely considered the top 2026 recruit in the state.

It continued a welcome trend for coach Keegan Cook and his staff: keeping top local talent at home. Since taking over the program, Cook has kept in-state recruits Stella and Olivia Swenson, who are on campus now, and received commitments from Carly Gilk (the top Minnesota recruit for 2025) and now Hoecke.

"I have been a U fan my whole life, just cause of growing up here," Hoecke said Thursday. "But going into this recruiting process, I was completely open to all options, and I did the work before to find my top five."

Two weeks ago, Cook and his staff, with support from current players such as Mckenna Wucherer, Julia Hanson and Lauren Crowl, held their first ever elite camp, which brought in several of the top recruits from around the nation.

Hoecke was in attendance, getting to see the program in action.

"Being there with the whole coaching staff and a couple of the players was just a great way to build that relationship and get to know their coaching style," Hoecke said.

The Gophers' approach to her recruitment resonated in a way that nearly every commitment under Cook has echoed — a focus on personal connections with volleyball skills essential but secondary.

"They care so much for you as a person," she said. "I feel so comfortable around them and that they're going to be there for whatever I need."

There is no denying Hoecke's pedigree for her age. She is a member of the U.S. U-19 team and among the top players at her position in the nation. On Thursday, she was in Orlando getting ready for the AAU national championships with Minnesota Select, and that club's relationship with the Gophers is getting deep.

Current roster members Sydney Schnichels, Stella Swenson, Olivia Swenson, Skylar Gray and Kate Thibault played for Minnesota Select. So did Gilk, who is part of the 2025 recruiting class with Jordan Taylor from Houston; McKenna Garr, who played at Northern Lights, from Rush City; and Kelly Kinney from West Palm Beach, Fla.

"When Stella and Liv and Sydney were here, my team would scrimmage them sometimes," Hoecke said. "You start to build those surface level relationships. Carly I played with last year … built a great bond and are great friends."

What can Gophers fans expect from her when she hits campus in two years?

"The slide is my favorite thing, and I love to run it, blocking, being able to get over there fast has really helped me," she said. "But mentally I'm a calming presence on the court. You aren't going to see my too high of highs and too low of lows."