Being a captain wasn’t necessarily something Lexi Rodriguez envisioned for herself when she first arrived on campus. Yet two years later, she found herself sitting in front of a room full of cameras and reporters, previewing her second season as a captain at Nebraska at Big Ten Media Days.
“I was very, very quiet growing up,” Rodriguez said. “I had been captain on previous club teams and high school teams, but I didn’t know how I was going to perform or be at this level. And obviously I’ve had a great two years and I’ve really matured and grown up a lot to where I can be at this point, but growing up, I didn’t know if I’d be able to be vocal enough to kind of be a leader.”
Well, Rodriguez won AVCA National Freshman of the Year in her first season, and heading into year two she was named captain of the USA Volleyball U21 National Team for the 2022 Pan American Cup. Last summer, Coach John Cook said that experienced fast-tracked her path to becoming a captain at Nebraska, and on Tuesday, Rodriguez said it helped her find her voice.
“I think it helped a lot for sure because I kind of got that experience to kind of figure out my leadership styles and how I kind of want to go about the way I lead other people around me,” Rodriguez said. “But then at the same time, I was also leading people that I had never played with, half the people I’d never met, so it was a little bit difficult to kind of really figure out how to lead a team. And then having last year’s experience also really helped me and I feel like now I’ve gotten a lot of experience and I feel like Merritt and I together have just been communicating and it’s already going really well.”
Merritt Beason is the “mom” of the team, and Rodriguez said her own leadership style meshes well with her fellow captain’s.
“I would say we kind of go hand in hand,” Rodriguez said. “We have very similar presences on the court; we’re both very level-headed, very calm. And so I think just both of us being able to kind of control the vibes and make sure that everyone’s staying level-headed — some people are going to be a lot higher and some people are going to be a lot lower, so just making sure that there’s a balance. But I think I’m also someone that a lot of people can open up to and talk to you. I think that I’m a really good listener and that I have really close relationships with everyone on the team.”
Rodriguez and Beason have been in constant communication since they were named captains on the flight back from Brazil, discussing schedules for open gyms and lifting, team-building and other topics. Rodriguez said there have been multiple moments where it’s hit her that Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles are gone and that it now falls on her to speak up as a captain.
“It was kind of hard to at first,” Rodriguez said. “I think throughout beach season, it was like ‘Oh, it’s beach, it’s not indoor yet.’ And then once we got to indoor it was like, ‘Oh, wow, usually Kenzie is the one who says that; now it’s got to be me or someone else.’ We are the oldest ones, and I think in the spring we still kind of thought of ourselves as underclassmen. So just trying to get outside our comfort zone and be the leaders because we kind of have to be now.”
While team-wide leadership is her responsibility as a captain, as a libero Rodriguez has also developed a more hands-on relationship with one of her young teammates in particular, freshman defensive specialist Laney Choboy.
“She’s a competitor, man,” Rodriguez said. “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 she 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.”
That being said, Rodriguez doesn’t anticipate Choboy needing too much help because of her outgoing personality and natural ability to either fire up or cheer up her teammates, depending on the situation.
Before arriving at Nebraska, Rodriguez didn’t envision herself as a Cornhusker team captain, but heading into year two with the title, she’s looking to live up to the standard set by the leaders that have come before her.