Several Huskers Captained Junior National Teams Over the Summer
By Lincoln Arneal • Photos by Jimmy Rash
For Bekka Allick, the call came during math class.
On the other end was Jamie Morrison, the head coach for the U18 national team, asking the then-Waverly senior if she would serve as captain for the upcoming world championships.
“I got really emotional,” Allick said. “I was like, ‘I got to pull myself together because I got to go to class.'”
Allick said she hadn’t thought about serving as captain before the call and instead was focused on being a good teammate.
“I didn’t think the girls saw me like that,” Allick said after her first week of fall practices for Nebraska. “I just thought they saw me as a regular teammate. So for all of them to agree that they wanted me to be captain, it felt, I don’t know, I felt really honored.”
Allick is one of several Huskers named captains of junior national teams recently. This summer at a pair of Pan Am Cup tournaments, sophomore libero Lexi Rodriguez was named captain of the U21 team, while freshman middle blocker Maggie Mendelson was tabbed the leader of the U19 group. In addition, sophomore setter Kennedi Orr was the captain of the U.S. team at the U18 World Championships in 2019. Add onto that list Husker legend Jordan Larson, the U.S. women’s team captain at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
Each of those teams achieved a high level of success. The U.S. won its first-ever gold medals at the Olympics and the U18 Worlds in 2019. They also captured the gold at both Pan Am Cups and took home the bronze at the 2021 U18 Worlds.
For Mendelson, she found out she was selected team leader after the team switched hotels between tryouts and the tournament. She said the team filled out surveys and she ended up with the title of “Team Mom,” which surprised her because she’s usually the youngest on the team.
Her responsibilities included ensuring everyone was on time for team events, trying to help with conflicts and making decisions about practice times. She also consulted with a leadership team to help make decisions.
Mendelson said she learned that understanding people’s needs and listening to them is an important part of being a leader.
“That’s gonna be really helpful moving forward, especially at the college level,” she said. “Everybody here is just so awesome that I might never be the best one, but it’s always good to listen and be heard.”
Rodriguez said she learned more about her leadership style this summer and how she likes to figure out what motivates each player. She said she was shocked that the honor usually goes to a setter or attacker. Rodrigeuz said she didn’t have many preexisting relationships with her teammates.
“It was just such a big stage. It wasn’t my normal Nebraska team that knows me very well. It was complete strangers,” she said. “So to have that recognition was pretty cool.”
After earning first-team All-American honors and being named Big Ten defensive player of the year, NU coach John Cook already had challenged Rodriguez to grow more assertive on the court this season.
“We’ve talked to her about being a leader at some point, but (being named Team USA captain) really facilitated and sped up that conversation,” Cook said.
Allick, who also played for the U21 Pan Am Cup team, was Rodriguez’s roommate and saw firsthand her positive influence. Allick said leaders are often either peacemakers or peacekeepers, and Rodriguez fell into the latter.
“I think she absolutely crushed it because she spoke up when she needed to, and I think it kept the team level-headed,” Allick said.
When told the lengthy list of Huskers who were national team captains, Allick said she got goosebumps. After enjoying her first taste of team leadership, she said her ultimate goal is to be captain of the Huskers for at least one year.
“That just speaks volumes on the kind of girls that coach (Cook) recruits because he doesn’t just look at skill,” Allick said. “The Big Ten has a strong conference because we all have athletes, but Nebraska separates itself because he recruits leaders. He recruits strong women and peaceful people. He just recruits solid people and then just transforms them into incredible volleyball players.”