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When the Big Ten Conference announced Tuesday that Kelsey Robinson was the league’s 2013 Player of the Year, I can’t imagine anyone who follows volleyball being the least bit surprised. Up to this point, the Husker senior transfer from Tennessee has done everything she can do inside the renovated Devaney Center except mop up the sweat she leaves on a world-class court. Robinson is, in fact, your classic model for Player of the Year in any sport, and here are six reasons why I believe that:
1) Kelsey chose Nebraska to play for the best, play against the best and be the best. Let’s be honest. When you’re the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year as a sophomore, it’s pretty scary to make a life change as big as she did. But for her, regret would have been even scarier. She always wanted to play for John Cook and Nebraska, and she was more than willing to let go of one life so she could pursue another that had a surprising opening in Lincoln.
2) Kelsey grasped Nebraska’s culture as quickly as anyone. I don’t know what the record is for fastest ascent to Player of the Year in the nation’s oldest and biggest conference, but Robinson has to be close to the all-time record, earning the league’s highest individual honor less than a year after she stepped on campus. Want to know what her all-time biggest highlight here is? When Husker volleyball, basketball and soccer teams won big games on the same weekend. “That’s such a great feeling when we all want to be a national power at the same time,” she told me. “That’s what separates Nebraska from others. Everybody is united in some way, and getting all that support we get from our fans puts us all on top of the world.”
3) Kelsey is leading this team for all the right reasons. She may be Nebraska’s only senior getting the headlines, but fellow seniors Morgan Broekhuis and Hayley Thramer command Robinson’s ultimate respect. “I don’t think I would be a leader here without both of them,” Kelsey told me. “They see things I don’t see on the court, and off the court. They give me great help. They’re both great organizers. They know every drill and what Nebraska’s volleyball standards are. They know things I don’t know and share them with me. They’ve accepted their roles and are huge role models for me and the rest of the team. I don’t know if people realize how much they’ve given to help us be successful. I think it shows what kind of character they have and what kind of people they are. I can’t imagine how hard it would be, but they make every day count.”
4) Kelsey adapted immediately to Cook’s style and helped younger teammates follow suit. “This is a young team, and we all had to come together right away,” Robinson said. “Coach Cook tells us all the time that he would rather yell at us in practice and make us mad then rather than get to the game and see it all unfold and not know how to handle it. He’s a great coach and gives us confidence. He helps us get ready to play, regardless of how big the game is.”
5) Kelsey sees Nebraska’s new facility as a game-changer for volleyball. “I feel so fortunate to play in the first year of the new Devaney Center,” Robinson said. “I think this facility is going to help change the nature of college volleyball. It sets a new standard and other schools are going to have to keep up.” In slightly more than three months, the Devaney Center has become a showplace for NCAA volleyball, and Nebraska will host first- and second-round tournament matches this weekend as well as third- and fourth-round matches the following weekend. Home court should help, but the competition is formidable. Oregon, which beat the Huskers in the NCAA Elite Eight a year ago in Omaha, is one of this weekend’s three visitors, along with Miami and Fairfield, Nebraska’s first-round opponent.
6) Kelsey judges how good she is by team accomplishment. The immediate goal is to help lead the Huskers to the Final Four and the National Championship in Seattle on Dec. 19th and the 21st. That journey begins in earnest this weekend and will be decided later this month. Then and only then will Kelsey Robinson seek the right professional volleyball opportunity that will enable her to work in parallel to her other dream — a spot on the USA’s 2016 Women’s Olympic Volleyball Team. Yes, her dreams require unrelenting individual excellence, but she views both pursuits in relationship to overall team excellence. And that’s exactly why she’s your classic Player of the Year model … in any sport.
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