By Lincoln Arneal
Just after the serve hit the net and the ball fell to the court, the whistle blew.
Everyone on the line.
The team had failed to get 10 consecutive serves in, so they had to run line touches.
During the sprints, one player beat the rest of the team to each line. She was relentless. When she finished, she encouraged her teammates to finish strong and not coast.
Even if a failure caused them to run, it was still an opportunity for Laney Choboy. Anything can be a competition, and any competition is a chance to prove herself.
“She was always the first to finish those things. She was using the punishment to get better,” said Erin Hensler, Choboy’s high school coach at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. “She took that as, ‘I’m gonna run faster and be a better athlete.’ Not a lot of kids will take a punishment to their advantage and push themselves like that.”
It doesn’t take much to get Choboy’s competitive juices flowing.
A race to tie shoes faster. A pickleball game against her brother. Or most commonly, a volleyball rally. Anything can be a competition.
For Choboy, Nebraska’s newest defensive dynamo, her competitive drive defines who she is and helps make her one of the best volleyball players in the nation.
“I’ve always had energy, and I’ve always been the loudest person on the floor,” Choboy said. “I’ve always just kind of picked my team up and took them with me.”
After watching Choboy make a diving play to save a ball near the Husker bench, Nebraska coach John Cook said Choboy could play a whole game and not touch the ball and she would still be worth three points on their ledger. Her energy, belief in her teammates and conviction that they will win the next point help elevate everyone.
“She just has a magnetic personality that is contagious,” Cook said. “It helps these guys believe and then when she does make plays, it’s like that times 10. You saw that play she made? I mean, who else was making that? That was unreal.”
Choboy comes from an athletic family. Her father, Jon, played tennis in college and was the head coach at North Carolina State for 15 years. Mother Tammy played volleyball at Appalachian State, and her older brother, Landon, played baseball at the College of Charleston and will use his fifth year of eligibility at Division II Mount Olive.
Choboy had ways to release her competitive spirit at home. The family would host a pickleball tournament between all the Choboys and their cousins. While Laney wanted to win, she really wanted to beat her brother.
“Whenever they’re on opposite sides of the net, that’s where it gets definitely a little more challenging,” Tammy said.
As the third child, Choboy would tag along to her older sister Madison’s club volleyball tournaments. Not that she was forced to – she wanted to be there.
As a 6-year-old, Laney sat beside her mother on the bench with a blank piece of paper, keeping score and stats. If the scorekeeper ever got off or made a mistake, Choboy would let her mother know and they’d get it corrected.
She wasn’t just focused on the score. Choboy would also critique the attackers’ fundamentals. She could tell when a player started with the wrong foot and her approach was off.
It wouldn’t be long before Laney would get her shot on the court. She joined her first club team the following year when the youngest group they had for her was the 11-and-under team.
“At 7, I told my mom I was ready to go, and she was like, ‘I can’t hold her back anymore,’” Choboy said. “So there she goes. She let me go, and it’s been great ever since.”
Even though she was smaller than the other players, Choboy made up for it with her aggression and determination. She played just one year with the 11s. She stayed with the 12s for two seasons but kept progressing, building her confidence and abilities.
While her club teammates were always older, they could rarely match Choboy’s competitive drive. She didn’t understand why they weren’t as competitive as she was. She went all out. Not always to the best results. Choboy admitted that she wasn’t always the best teammate.
Eventually, her maturity caught up to her drive and Choboy learned how to turn her competitive fire into a tool to push others and set an example. She also pushed herself to become a better player. She worked hard to learn the finer points of passing and serve receive. She watched film and visualized herself making plays.
Choboy also learned to be a good teammate and help others without pushing them too hard. As a senior, she worked as a line judge for freshman matches. During breaks, Choboy would talk to the players about what she saw and how they could improve. Hensler said having a senior see them and deliver that message in a caring yet poignant manner meant the world to them. Hensler fully expects Choboy to be coaching volleyball when her playing days are over.
“She is the feistiest girl you have ever met,” Hensler said. “She’s even feisty with her own teammates because she wants to get the point across. But when she’s off the court, she’s just so bubbly and jubilant and it’s just 100% different than her (on the court).”
Bumps in the Road
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Choboy on her journey to college volleyball. Adversity popped up several times, but she came out ahead as a better player and person each time.
Choboy missed her freshman year of high school volleyball after she underwent surgery on both hips. However, that time on the sidelines helped her realize her personality didn’t have to be tied to volleyball.
She sat on the bench with Hensler and gained a new perspective on the game. Instead of always being on the court, she returned to her early days on the sidelines, watching intently and picking up the details few noticed.
COVID-19 hit and truncated her sophomore year, which allowed her to completely recover physically. Then she decided to sit out her junior year because of travel and opportunities with the junior national team. She was part of the U19 team that won the bronze medal at the 2021 U19 World Championships in Mexico. Choboy formed tight relationships with several other players, including future Nebraska players Bekka Allick, Maggie Mendelson, Caroline Jurevicius and Bergen Reilly.
For her senior year, Leesville Road needed more attacking, so Hensler turned to Choboy, the No. 8 overall prospect in her class. Even though she was 5-foot-3, she had the strongest arm swing on the team and an excellent vertical jump, allowing her to play outside hitter.
“Having her in that position where she could play six rotations on the court for us, we wouldn’t have to take her out, and she’d still be able to play tons of defense. To me, it was just a no-brainer,” Hensler said. “We’re gonna have our most versatile and our strongest player playing in the position where she’s gonna get most of the balls.”
Choboy led the Pride with 3.6 kills and 4.3 digs per set and helped them qualify for the 4A state tournament.
The last curve ball thrown at Choboy came in October when she got a call from Minnesota head coach Hugh McCutcheon telling her that he planned to step down. It was a tough decision because she’d been looking at Minnesota since she was in eighth grade and intending to enroll early. The Gophers didn’t plan to announce a replacement until after the season, weeks before she was preparing to begin her college career.
The Choboys quietly started contacting programs and set up visits to Nebraska and Texas. It was stressful, condensing the entire recruiting process into a couple of weeks. The final sign might have come after they returned from their official visit to Lincoln. They were driving by Leesville Road and they pulled up behind a car with a Husker decal on it.
When she posted her commitment to Nebraska on social media, it caught nearly everyone off guard, even her good friend and future Husker teammate Harper Murray in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who said she yelled a few choice words unsuitable for publication.
“When I found out, I got out of my car and screamed in my high school parking lot,” Murray said. “She was one of my best friends, so I just didn’t want to feel like I had to pressure her into it, but she knew on her own how badly I wanted her to come.”
More Than a Spark
In her first seven months as part of the Nebraska program, Choboy has made a big impression on her teammates. She’s part of a five-member freshman class that made its presence known early on a roster that doesn’t feature seniors.
The year started with Choboy teaming up with Lindsay Krause to go 14-6 in the beach season. Her play in the Huskers’ exhibition match in Central City, Nebraska, against Wichita State earned fans. Then she held her own in Brazil and donned the libero jersey for a few matches. Cook said she’s already improved from the service line and passing the ball.
At most schools, Choboy might be slated to start at libero right away. The problem at NU is she will be behind junior co-captain Lexi Rodriguez. However, Choboy relishes the role of learning consistency from the two-time All-American.
“She’s just gonna show up every single day and she’s gonna pass the ball every single day and it’s really hard to compete with that,” Choboy said. “I’ve learned some technique things and I’ve also learned how to stay steady and not have super high, not super low. So she’s just taught me so much.”
Choboy will still play an essential role for the Huskers this fall. She will likely be the defensive specialist for one of NU’s outside hitters. She watched the success of other DSs last year, especially Kenzie Knuckles, who also contributed to the Huskers’ attack.
Coming to Nebraska in January allowed Choboy to adjust to living independently and figure out college before the pressure of the volleyball season cranks up. While she develops a role on the court, Choboy has impacted the team’s chemistry. Even though she’s one of the younger players on the team, she’s not afraid to speak her mind and let her play set the tone.
“She brings a lot of energy,” junior co-captain Merritt Beason said. “It allows the team to kind of be fueled. She’s like a fire starter in a way she kind of likes to spark, and everyone else flies up in flames.”