Lori Rodman of the Loyola Marymount women's volleyball team has built a reputation for blocking on defense and smashes on offense.
But she wasn't the team superstar or big gun. She never has been and, because her college career ended Tuesday, she never will be.
"She's the unsung hero," said Loyola team captain Tiffany Miller. "She's inspirational and always comes through when we need her."
Rodman, a senior middle hitter and blocker for the Lions, was a four-year starter, yet she's only been recognized as "most improved."
"All my life I've gotten that ," Rodman said. "I got most improved in high school and I got it my sophomore year here (Loyola). I swear, I hate that award."
But improved not only aptly describes Rodman, it is the phrase for the Loyola team, which started on a losing streak, dropping four of its first five matches, then finished strongly, taking second place in the West Coast Athletic Conference with a 10-4 record (17-17 overall).
The early problems were attributed to to a new coach and the graduation of conference-of-the-year setter Andrea Fort.
Said Rodman: "I was ready to quit. I didn't want to deal with starting over with a new style and I don't think anyone else wanted to.
"Everyone hated to come to practice. It was cat fights out there. There were personality conflicts and we were all stressed. It was a chore. It never had been before."
"I know it was hard at the beginning because of the coaching changes," said first-year Coach George Yamashita, who was Loyola's assistant last year. "There was an upgrade in the expectations of the program and they were forced to work a lot harder at practice.
"So at first team unity was missing, which can be damaging."
But the Lions finally got untracked. They won seven of their last nine matches.
Much of the improvement is credited to junior Seham Khalaf, who took over as setter, and a lot of it had to do with the Lions' strong attack.
Loyola had several other players with higher hitting percentages than Rodman, who ended her college career with a .212 hitting percentage and 281 kills this season.
Middle hitter Cathy Petrissans, an all-WCAC player last year, finished with a .277 average, while middle blocker Dena Block hit .247 and outside hitter Leslie Wholford ended with a .219 percentage.
It's not Rodman's statistics, however, that get her noticed.
Nancy Fortner, who ended her seven-year coaching career at Loyola last year, said she recruited Rodman out of Bishop Montgomery High because Rodman could set, hit, block and serve.
"She was an all-around athlete who always started and was reliable," Fortner said. "She's a great team player." Earlier this month Rodman was more than just a reliable starter. The 21-year-old was named West Coast Athletic Conference player of the week for her performances against Gonzaga and the University of Portland, both straight-game victories for the Lions.
"I was shocked," Rodman said. "I was sick with a cold and wasn't as hyper for those games as I usually am."
The 5-10 business major had 12 kills with a .364 hitting percentage against Gonzaga and a .318 hitting percentage with 11 kills against Portland.
"Lori has great spiking ability in the middle," Fortner said. "She extends well when she hits and has great reach. Lots of hitters don't have that."
Rodman attributes her great hitting to her high school coach, who made her hit a volleyball against the wall 100 times every day until she developed reach and a proper technique. It took a year but she mastered it.
"Because of that my arm swing is more like an outside hitter's," Rodman said. "I have the wrong arm swing for a middle hitter, but that's why I have such reach."
Her strength and all-around ability have proved to be her most valuable traits. She attributes this to her involvement in sports as a youngster.
Rodman played tetherball with the boys. Throughout junior high school, she competed in softball, basketball, track and volleyball.
In high school she decided to specialize in volleyball and played middle blocker at Bishop Montgomery, which won the Angelus League title her junior year and placed second her senior year. She also played club volleyball for various South Bay teams.
"She's probably one of the best pure athletes I've ever coached," said Yamashita, who has coached junior development volleyball for eight years. "She's got tremendous physical potential and great quickness."
Rodman's athletic childhood definitely reflects her performance on the volleyball court. It's impossible to tell she was once an intimidated and frightened college player who got nervous every time the ball came near her.
"My freshman year I was so scared," Rodman said. "I would get on the court and just close my eyes and pray they wouldn't serve to me.
"There I was, used to winning all the time in high school, and we'd play UCLA or USC and they'd kill us. Those were teams with girls that would just kill you with the ball."