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Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Volleyball Roster Reviews: Defensive Specialists

January 20, 2023

With the transfer portal closing, the spring semester about to begin and Nebraska’s recruits all set to officially join the program, now is a good time to look back and look ahead at the Husker volleyball roster.

We’re going to break it down position by position to review 2022 performance and preview each group heading into spring ball.

We’ve already covered the setters and middle blockers. Up next is the defensive specialist group.

Nicklin Hames planned to spend her fifth season at Nebraska in a defensive specialist role, but that lasted one weekend and three matches before Coach John Cook moved her back to setter and began running a 6-2 offense. That left Nebraska with three back-row players.

Lexi Rodriguez (sophomore, 5-foot-5)

2022 stats: 4.26 D/S, 1.24 A/S, 25 SA (0.23 SA/S), 43 SE

Rodriguez followed up her National Freshman of the Year season with another fantastic campaign, orchestrating the best defense in the country while finishing fourth in the Big Ten in digs per game.

She notched double-digit digs in 28 of her 32 matches including a high of 25 in three sets against Michigan. She also had a 24-dig match in four sets against Ohio State. 

Rodriguez served a season-high three aces (with no errors) against Rutgers, one of seven multi-ace matches. She improved her aces-per-set average from 0.16 as a freshman to 0.23 as a sophomore, but it came with a high error rate. The service line is one area in which she can take a step forward heading into her junior year.

She missed out on a second straight Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and first-team AVCA All-America nod, having to settle for first-Team All Big Ten and second-team All-America honors instead.

Rodriguez is only 12 digs shy of hitting the 1,000 mark already, and she still has two more seasons to add to that total.

Kenzie Knuckles (senior, 5-foot-9)

2022 stats: 1.97 D/S, 18 SA (0.20 SA/S), 35 SE, 14 kills, 13 attack errors

Knuckles reprised her role at left back this season, playing in the back row for Nebraska’s second left side hitter. The former libero was a key part of Nebraska’s elite defensive performance all season and also provided an occasional attacking thereat out of the back row.

Kenzie Knuckles (2) and Lexi Rodriguez (8) celebrate a point against the Iowa Hawkeyes during a college volleyball match, November 11, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

She notched double-digit digs four times including a season-high 14 in her final match, a win against Purdue. She had 12 digs and a season-high three kills in the five-set win against Creighton.

Knuckles took a step back in terms of production as a server with 17 fewer aces and four more errors, but she still had four multi-ace matches including a season-high three against Loyal Marymount.

Unfortunately, her season was cut short by a torn ACL heading into the final week of the regular season. Her absence dramatically impacted Nebraska’s rotation against Wisconsin and Minnesota and in the NCAA Tournament. Cook said the injury left the team heartbroken, and Nebraska never really recovered.

Knuckles finished her Husker career with 1,098 digs, 90 aces, 66 kids and one important, emphatic block on Minnesota’s Stephanie Samedy during her junior year. 

Knuckles had announced prior to her injury that she would not return for a fifth season of eligibility at Nebraska, and on Jan. 9 the 1890 Initiative, the newest Nebraska NIL collective, shared that she had accepted a role as director of events and fulfillment. 

Maisie Boesiger (7) serves the ball in the third set against the Iowa Hawkeyes during a college volleyball match, November 11, 2022, in Lincoln, Neb. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Maisie Boesiger (freshman, 5-foot-6)

2022 stats: 12 digs, 6 assists, 3 aces, 5 service errors

The prolific setter from Norris chose to walk on at Nebraska as a defensive specialist, and she found her way onto the court as a true freshman.

Boesiger played in 23 matches and 41 sets, primarily as a serving specialist. She served aces at Michigan Stat, against Iowa and against Delaware State in the NCAA Tournament. She also posted season-highs with four digs and two assists in that postseason match. She also had three digs and one assists against Kansas in the tournament.

Looking Ahead

Knuckles is moving on, but Rodriguez will return to lead the Nebraska defense once again while Boesiger will keep working in whatever role Cook has planned for her.

The coaching staff also made a late addition to its already stacked 2023 recruiting class when Laney Choboy, PrepVolleyball/com’s top-ranked libero — and fifth-ranked player overall — backed off her commitment to Minnesota following the news that coach Hugh McCutcheon was stepping down after the season and flipped to Nebraska.

The 5-foot-3 Choboy averaged 4.3 digs and 3.6 assists as a senior for Leesville Road in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has extensive USA Volleyball experience and helped future teammates Maggie Mendelson, Harper Murray, Bergen Reilly and Andi Jackson win a gold medal at the 20222 Girls U19 Pan American Cup. Choboy earned the Best Receiver award for her efforts during the tournament.

Rodriguez will reprise her role as Nebraska’s libero in 2023, but Choboy could step right in for Knuckles in a defensive specialist role alongside Rodriguez in the back row. Where she plays will likely depend on which of Nebraska’s pins earns a six-rotation role.

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