The recruiting story for Nebraska volleyball player Lexi Rodriguez has quickly become one of the best ones the program has had.
In 2017, Rodriguez attended a Nebraska volleyball camp as a high school freshman, just like hundreds of players do each summer.
For the best of the group, these camps can also be an unofficial tryout to see if you’ll get a scholarship offer from the Huskers.
During the camp, Kayla Banwarth, a Husker assistant coach at the time and not far removed from being the libero for the United States team at the Olympics, was so impressed with Rodriguez that she was ready to offer Rodriguez a scholarship. But coach John Cook wasn’t ready.
“Finally I was like, ‘OK, if Kayla has this good of gut feel about her (we’ll offer her),’” Cook said.
A few years later, Nebraska fans are very happy with Banwarth’s persistence. Nebraska was Rodriguez’s first scholarship offer, and she quickly accepted.
In her first season as a Husker this season, Rodriguez won the job as the starting libero to begin the season, and the freshman from Sterling, Illinois, wowed crowds with both diving saves and by consistently digging balls to the setter that led to a kill for the Huskers.
The rest of the Big Ten Conference coaches noticed Rodriguez, too. On Wednesday she was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
That’s one of the four major player awards the Big Ten hands out each season. The all-conference awards are determined in a vote of the league's 14 head coaches.
Nebraska had three players chosen for the All-Big Ten first-team — outside hitter Madi Kubik, middle blocker Lauren Stivrins and Rodriguez.
Kubik made the All-Big Ten first-team for the first time. For Stivrins, it's her fourth time.
Nebraska and Purdue led the league with three players selected to the 19-player first team. League champion Wisconsin had two players.
Husker setter Nicklin Hames made the all-conference second team. Joining Rodriguez on the seven-player all-freshman team was NU right-side hitter Lindsay Krause.
Rodriguez being defensive player of the year is a remarkable accomplishment considering some of the older players in the league who were also contenders for the award. They include Purdue libero Jena Otec, a fifth-year senior who was the defensive player of the year last season; and Wisconsin libero Lauren Barnes, a second-team All-American last season. Barnes was a “huge difference-maker” in the Badgers’ two wins against Nebraska this season, Cook said.
Rodriguez is just the second freshman in conference history to capture the defensive player of the year award and the first since 2002.
She’s just the sixth player in program history to be named a conference defensive player of the year, a list that includes Justine Wong-Orantes, Hannah Werth, Christina Houghtelling and Jennifer Saleaumua.
Rodriguez has 442 digs, 111 set assists and 14 ace serves this season. She's been key in Nebraska having the top defense in the Big Ten this season, holding opponents to an average hitting percentage of just .147.
“At times she’s been phenomenal,” said Cook of Rodriguez.
Cook sees great value in the libero position, because they touch the ball so much — serving, defense, serve-receive and out-of-system setting.
“I think if you want to have a great team you better have a great setter, and you better have a great libero,” Cook said.
An outstanding second half of the season has earned Kubik first-team All-Big Ten honors for the first time in her career.
After averaging a .197 hitting percentage and 2.19 kills per set during the nonconference season, the junior outside hitter raised her averages to .219 and 4.11 for league matches.
Kubik led the Huskers in kills in all but one match during the conference season.
Minnesota right-side hitter Stephanie Samedy is the back-to-back Big Ten player of the year after recording 484 kills, 375 digs and 63 blocks.
The other major award winners are Wisconsin’s Sydney Hilley (setter of the year), Wisconsin outside hitter Julia Orzol (freshman), and Purdue’s Dave Shondell (coach).
Husker senior middle blocker Kayla Caffey was chosen as Nebraska’s sportsmanship honoree.
FIRST-TEAM ALL-BIG TEN
Megan Cooney, sr., OH/OPP, Illinois
Rainelle Jones, sr., MB, Maryland
Jess Mruzik, so., OH, Michigan
Sarah Franklin, so., OH, Michigan State
CC McGraw, sr., L, Minnesota
Stephanie Samedy, sr., OPP, Minnesota
Madi Kubik, jr., OH, Nebraska
Lexi Rodriguez, fr., L, Nebraska
Lauren Stivrins, sr., MB, Nebraska
Temi Thomas-Ailara, jr., OH, Northwestern
Mac Podraza, jr., S, Ohio State
Rylee Rader, so., MB, Ohio State
Kaitlyn Hord, sr., MB, Penn State
Jonni Parker, sr., RS, Penn State
Hayley Bush, sr., S, Purdue
Grace Cleveland, sr., OH, Purdue
Caitlyn Newton, sr., OH, Purdue
Sydney Hilley, sr., S, Wisconsin
Dana Rettke, sr., MB, Wisconsin
SECOND-TEAM ALL-BIG TEN
Courtney Buzzerio, sr., RS, Iowa
Jenna Wenaas, so., OH, Minnesota
Nicklin Hames, sr., S, Nebraska
Emily Londot, so., OPP, Ohio State
Jenna Hampton, sr., L, Penn State
Jena Otec, sr., L, Purdue
Lauren Barnes, sr., L, Wisconsin
Devyn Robinson, so., MB/RS, Wisconsin
Milan Gomillion, L/DS, Maryland
Jacque Boney, MB, Michigan
Lindsay Krause, OH, Nebraska
Lexi Rodriguez, L, Nebraska
Arica Davis, MB, Ohio State
Raven Colvin, MB, Purdue
Julia Orzol, OH, Wisconsin