The Nebraska volleyball team has its captains for the 2023 season.
Juniors Lexi Rodriguez and Merritt Beason emerged from a group of six finalists as the top choices, and they learned the news in a special way as they sat near each other on their flight back to the United States from Brazil.
“The captain of the airplane came to the back mid-flight and was just like, ‘Are you Lexi, are you Merritt?’ and we were like, ‘Yeah, what did we do?’” Beason said. “He was just like, ‘Well, I just wanted to congratulate you, captain to captain. You guys are going to be the captains for this team.’ So it was super cool. He was super nice and it was a cool way to find out for sure.”
Both players are repeat captains as Rodriguez earned the honor as a sophomore alongside two seniors last season while Beason served as a captain at Florida before transferring to Nebraska this offseason.
“Lexi, kind of the world revolves around her on her team,” Coach John Cook said. “Even though she’s quiet, she’s not outspoken, but she’s kind of the center of everything going on. And Merritt just has great qualities. She wants to be a third grade teacher, so you know how to take care of people, and they all come to her when something’s not right. She’s just like the team mom, I guess in a way. She’s built great relationships, even though she’s been here a short time. I think if you want to be a good good third grade teacher, it’s not about you, it’s it’s about those kids, and for her, it’s about her teammates.”
The process to identify and select captains has been a long one for a team without any seniors on its roster. It evolved multiple leadership workshops and individual feedback from each of the players on the team.
“Every year we always struggle with captains and leadership, and since we had such a young team, we did several leadership classes throughout the spring,” Cook said. “We said it’s volunteer if you want to go. Everybody showed up. One night we said ‘OK, if you want to be a captain, get up and talk.’ Everybody got up and talked. So we continued that theme on this trip, and we did the same thing. And then in Búzios, which is our wind down, we went through another one — ‘OK, who really feels like they’re ready to be captain?’ Now knowing this group and knowing what it’s going to take, six of them got up and talked. And then we let the team in individual meetings tell us who they thought should be captain and it was pretty clear cut, the two that had a pretty distinct advantage over everybody else.”
Cook said the other finalists received a lot of consideration as well, and his message to them is that even though they won’t be captains this year, they’ve shown the leaderships skills to potentially become one down the road.
“I think it was an awesome process and I was blown away by the job they did getting up and talking about how they felt about that,” Cook said. “I think that’s one of our jobs as coaches is they’re not just volleyball players. We’re creating people that are going to raise families, go into the workforce, play professionally if they want to, and we want them to have leadership qualities. And so we’re pretty fired up about how this has gone.”
Rodriguez said one way she and her classmates showed leadership this spring was the way they welcomed the newcomers and made them feel like part of the team from day one. Beason is one of those newcomers in her own right, but she won the respect of her teammates in the five months since her arrival by being herself.
“It’s definitely a huge honor,” Beason said. “It’s very, very special. But I just came in and was myself, and I think at the end of the day, I had to learn a bunch of stuff. I was in a new program, I kind of had to learn the ins and outs of Nebraska volleyball. And so I just kind of came in, put my head down, did what I needed to do and ultimately was myself. I focused on those relationships with everyone, the freshmen, the newbies that I was coming in with and then everyone else. I think it’s definitely a huge honor. It’s pretty surreal, but I would just say I just focused on being myself and just kind of let it all fall into place.”
Beason said any of the six players in the mix could have been chosen and nobody would have been surprised. She said their leadership style is by example, and Rodriguez said her experience last season will serve her well as a returning captain.
“I learned a lot about how I want to lead, and like Merritt said, I am someone who’s going to lead by example,” Rodriguez said. “And I just want to make sure that my teammates are having fun while they’re playing but also doing their job and making sure that there’s a good balance and that the vibes on the court and off the court are good. And so I feel like that’s just something really important is to just make sure that our chemistry is good and that, at the end of the day, we’re making steps towards our goal.”
With captains selected, the next stage of the offseason is summer workouts that lead up to preseason practices. Rodriguez said the strength coaches will organize the lifting plan, but the Huskers will organize their own open gyms as well with the captains leading the way.
“We’re pretty much in the weight room just trying to get stronger, faster, get ready for the season pretty much all summer long,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll get in the gym when we can, try and do open gyms before camp starts. I think we’re still all really determined to keep getting better. We all know that there are things as a team and individually that we have to work on, so I think we’re all bought into doing that.”