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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

2023 Nebraska Volleyball Position Previews: Defensive Specialist

August 14, 2023

Nebraska was the best defensive team in the country last season, and a stellar back row played a big role in that.

Defensive specialist Kenzie Knuckles is gone, as are outside hitter Madi Kubik and setter Nicklin Hames, who were both elite back-row defenders at their positions. However, the heart, soul and orchestrator of the defense is back and looking to build off a phenomenal first two seasons in scarlet and cream.

Junior libero Lexi Rodriguez was the lone Husker named to the preseason All-Big Ten team, and she was one of just three unanimous selections. The two-time All-Big Ten and All-America performer averaged 4.26 digs per set as a sophomore and 4.33 as a freshman.

The 5-foot-5 native of Sterling, Illinois, is also heading into her second season as a team captain and has taken on even more responsibility as a leader with no seniors on the roster.

“I think she’s a steady, constant player and she’s always going to be there for her teammates,” fellow junior Ally Batenhorst said. “She’s a great role model for our team in the way she plays and the way she is mentally. She’s very tough in that aspect, and just having someone like her on the court is very relieving and it’s kind of reassurance that everything will be fine and she definitely sets the standard every day in practice.”

Rodriguez is one of the best liberos in the country and has been since he stepped on the floor as a freshman, but she won’t be the only blue-chip recruit in the back row this season.

The top-ranked libero in the 2023 class, Raleigh, North Carolina, native Laney Choboy, was originally committed to Minnesota. However, when the Gophers’ coach, Hugh McCutcheon, announced he’d be stepping away from his position, she reopened her recruitment and he Huskers capitalized on the opportunity to add to their already stacked recruiting class.

While Rodriguez probably has the libero jersey locked up for the next two seasons, Choboy will likely get an opportunity to play as a defensive specialist from day one, stepping in for the departed Knuckles.

Laney Choboy (6) celebrates against the Wichita State Shockers during the spring volleyball match Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Central City, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

“She’s a competitor, man,” Rodriguez said of the freshman. “She is feisty. She will not let a ball drop. I kind of want to take the leadership that Kenzie kind of had for me and just taking me under her wing and I really want to be that person for her, because the game changes from high school to college and I think just being there for her, kind of helping her get through her first Big Ten season is kind of my main goal. 

“I just want to make sure she’s happy and having the best season she can and I’m really excited to play back row with her because she truly makes everyone around her better … just by she has no quit and she wants to win every point. She brings a lot of energy and I think she’s very reliable. Everyone knows that she’s going to do that everyday, she’s going to bring it every day, and I think it’s really good for our team.”

Choboy got a chance to show fans her fiery personality and incredible defensive range during the team’s exhibition against Wichita State and matches in Brazil, and Coach John Cook has given her opportunities throughout the spring and summer to play libero in spots as well.

“She’s done a great job and has adjusted really well,” Cook said. “Her serve’s gotten way better. The big thing for her is passing. One of the great things about doing an international trip is we have to play with those blue and gold balls. They are hard to pass. There are balls that literally sometimes we don’t even touch them, they just drop out. So I think that’s really helped her develop the mindset as a passer and what she has to do at this level, because in high school and club, they don’t get challenged like they do in college and playing with those blue and gold balls.”

Where exactly Choboy will play is to be determined as Cook identifies which of his pins will play six rotations, but you can expect to see her in the mix somewhere this season.

Rounding out the defensive specialist group is sophomore walk-on Maisie Boesiger. The Norris product appeared in 23 sets in a serving specialist role as a true freshman, totaling 12 digs, six assists and three aces. Cook always says the six best servers will play, and Boesiger has shown her serve to be a weapon.

With only two true setters on the roster, Boesiger’s experience as a standout high school setter could be valuable for Nebraska in case of injury down the road. She’s Norris’ record-holder for career assists with 3,460 of them during her time as a Titan playing for her mother, Christina.

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