When she was a senior at Worthington Kilbourne High School, Lydia DeWeese wasn’t sure she had what it takes to play volleyball at the Division I collegiate level. This season, the middle blocker for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay proved she did.
As of Nov. 26, the 6-foot-2 junior was ranked second nationally in blocks with 115 and fourth in blocks per set (1.63) for the Phoenix, which finished with a 21-9 record this season. Not too shabby for a player who worried she might get lost in the recruiting shuffle.
“I really didn’t even plan on playing college volleyball until I was a junior in high school,” said DeWeese, who led the Horizon League in blocks and hitting percentage this season. “I didn’t play on any national teams, which is what you have to do to be discovered by a Division I school.
“My senior year, one of the girls on my high school team (Haley Defibaugh) said the Columbus Volleyball Academy team she played for needed a middle. I took the shot when I was given it.”
At the same moment DeWeese was looking for a college, Sean Burdette, then the newly hired Wisconsin-Green Bay volleyball coach, was desperately seeking a middle blocker. The weekend after he had been hired, Burdette and DeWeese both happened to be at the three-day Mid East National Volleyball Qualifier in Indianapolis.
On the last day of the Mid East Qualifier, Burdette ended up watching DeWeese’s team. After watching the first set and seeing DeWeese impact the game with her natural blocking abilities, Burdette asked Dave Chapman, the director of the Columbus Volleyball Academy, where she was playing in college. After a long pause Chapman said he was unsure if she was committed somewhere but thought she was looking at some Division II and III programs.
“I told Dave right then and there I thought she could help us at Green Bay and that we had a scholarship available for her position,” Burdette said. “With it being so late in the recruiting process, it is tough to find someone that can come in and impact and be a complete player. I knew we would need to work on her arm swing and footwork but she just had this natural feel for blocking.”
In a month, DeWeese went from hoping to sign with a Division II or III program to being a Division I recruit. However, that summer she began to wonder if she made the right decision. The practices were even more demanding than the workouts she went through for the national level club teams. Put it in simplest terms, DeWeese said she felt “overwhelmed.”
“The biggest thing I've had to overcome throughout my career is confidence in myself,” said DeWeese, a Human Biology major with an emphasis in Health Science. “I really struggled to believe I was good enough to compete at the level I was playing at. But the constant support from my family, friends, teammates, coaches as well as a strongly rooted faith in God really helped me to develop the (right) mindset.”
“The game was still fairly fast for her and she was trying to make up some ground since she had not played at a high open level in club volleyball until her senior year,” Burdette said. “The other players she was going up against had played at that level for four or five years.”
However, late in her freshman year, Wisconsin-Green Bay was struggling at rival Cleveland State. Burdette inserted DeWeese into the lineup to slow down the Vikings’ middle attack and she held her own. A week later Burdette decided to put her into the starting lineup.
“Three seasons later, she has not let go of that spot,” Burdette said. “Her evolution as a person and player has been great to see. This year she has taken it to another level and been consistently one of the top players in the conference.”
DeWeese said seeing her name at the top of the NCAA statistics took a lot to get used to and in many ways, put a little bit of pressure on her.
“It was really surprising and humbling at first,” she said. “I probably wouldn't have believed you had you told me that was going to happen.
“I felt like there was this expectation, mostly from myself, to maintain those rankings. That could get overwhelming some days. I tried not to let it affect my performance on the court. My main goal was to do whatever I needed to do to contribute to the overall success of my team as a whole. To be nationally ranked for accomplishing that was just an extra-added, amazing blessing.”
Photos courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay