LINCOLN — Maybe the most valuable lesson Morgan Broekhuis ends up teaching her Nebraska volleyball teammates will be the toughest one she learned this season.
The one about handling disappointment with poise; that you can still be a captain even if you're not steering the ship.
Broekhuis stood center stage in Nebraska's biggest victories the previous two years, but as the No. 10-ranked Huskers enter the final week of the regular season, it marks the close of a bittersweet career for the senior opposite hitter. No longer a starter, she's now proving legacy isn't just on-court memories, but can be made of grace shown after the spotlight has moved elsewhere.
“We have our expectations in the gym and how we're going to work to be the best in the weight room this summer,” Broekhuis said. “But it's also how we conduct ourselves in public situations and in the classroom. The whole student-athlete, the whole person. At Nebraska, it's all of it.”
Understand this: Nebraska defeated three No. 1-ranked opponents in 2011 and 2012. The wiry, 6-foot-5 Broekhuis was key to all those wins.
She had 15 kills as Nebraska rallied for a Game 5 victory over UCLA last season, including the clincher on match point. She had 13 kills and 13 digs to help the Huskers upset Penn State in the NU Coliseum last year, and when Nebraska knocked off No. 1 Illinois in 2011, she had a team-high 17 kills.
It was a résumé that would get most players penciled in for a starting job as a senior, but Broekhuis said she knew she would be in for a challenge going into her final season.
“I came into this season just fighting for a position like everyone else,” she said. “That's what was said, and that's what I was going for.”
The year began with a battle between Broekhuis and freshman Amber Rolfzen for the right-side hitter spot. The players split time as Nebraska (22-5, 15-3 Big Ten) rotated opposites in a 6-2 system during the season's opening weekend. But, eventually, the freshman pulled ahead. Rolfzen seized the starting job and hasn't relinquished it.
Broekhuis is “in a competition battle, and she's got to compete and perform every day in practice,” Nebraska coach John Cook said. “One of the things for her that the frustration has been is that she knows that. She understands that. She just maybe hasn't been able to perform at the level she'd like.”
Broekhuis politely declined to answer if the year has been disappointing, allowing only “it's different. It doesn't mean you work any less hard during the week. It's helping your team prepare and making them better. Knowing, hey, if I get that chance, if I can come in and help my team, then I've got to be ready.”
Going into Wednesday's 7 p.m. match at Iowa (11-19, 2-16), Broekhuis has appeared in 16 matches this season, including the Huskers' last two. Cook said he feels confident inserting her into the lineup any time.
But if Broekhuis' last memory from the floor at Nebraska has already come and gone, the senior seems at peace. An A student, she will graduate next month with a degree in nutrition, exercise and health science, with an eye on starting a career as a nurse practitioner.
Saturday, she will run out on the floor on Senior Day against Penn State in front of a sold-out Devaney Center crowd that will include her parents and grandparents and celebrate a career that has included plenty of big moments.
Ready to add another, if called upon.
“Maybe,” she said, “my favorite memory is still yet to come, hopefully.”