Big 12 Campus Correspondent
In volleyball the libero is described as a purely defensive player. Her role is standard and defined. She is the rock of the team, providing stability, hardly ever taking a break and keeping the game going. For Nebraska, the libero is senior Kayla Banwarth.
"I just try to play for my team," Banwarth said. "I try to be a rock, I try to do it for them, just playing for each other."
Banwarth has been etching her name in the Nebraska record books for the last three years. With over 1,100 digs to her credit, the Dubuque, Iowa native is chasing NU's dig record after averaging 4.96 per set and tallying a total of 570 in 2009. To be listed in defensive categories among such names as Husker greats Jordan Larson and Lindsay Wischmeier is truly an honor for Banwarth and one she credits to those around her.
"I think my coaches have played a really big role in that from my freshman year to senior year; I've jumped leaps and bounds," Banwarth said. "I thank my coaches for that. I thank my teammates for making me better every day. I play for them, it's for them."
Banwarth did not have to look far for guidance as she grew into her leadership role for the Huskers. Assistant Coach Erik Sullivan, a two-time Olympian, was considered one of the best defensive players in the world during his playing career. In addition, the senior class of 2008, consisting of Jordan Larson, Rachel Schwartz and Amanda Gates provides Banwarth with leadership examples to this day.
"I've had to become more vocal," Banwarth said. "When I first got here I was real quiet, obviously a libero can't be quiet. I've opened up a lot more. Since then I've been working on leadership and have kind of been growing as a person."
But beyond her play on the court, Banwarth has learned and adopted an even more important trait. The family atmosphere surrounding the Nebraska volleyball program and the people associated with it have provided Banwarth with an invaluable life lesson.
"I think I've become more OK with myself," Banwarth said. "I've developed my own personality, who I am, and I am OK with that."
The final season of her record-setting career offers a chance to reflect on the highlights.
Individual statistics may point to NU's win over No. 11 Minnesota in 2009 when Banwarth posted career highs in digs (32) and assists (6). Her 32 digs that game ranked third in school history and were the most by a Husker since 1993.
However, Banwarth's best memories were made when the Huskers were tested the most, win or lose.
The Huskers' comeback victory over Washington in 2008 to make it to the NCAA Final Four and their national semifinal contest with Penn State a week later will forever stand out in Banwarth's mind.
"Probably the greatest two matches I've ever played in," Banwarth said. "Not only because of the comeback in Washington, but because of the atmosphere. And Penn State was just amazing, incredible."
With so many experiences, expectations and memories, Banwarth has only one thing to say about her final season at Nebraska - treasure it.
"I've heard that you don't really know how special it is until it's over and now that I'm a senior, it's been hitting me," Banwarth said. "You really don't understand until you are a senior and I'm just trying to embrace every minute of my senior year."