Dani Rygelski: A journey through Saint Louis volleyball

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Young Dani Rygelski: "My dad had to drag me to tryouts," which was a long way to becoming the A10 player of the year.

Danielle Rygelski just finished her college career at Saint Louis University and capped off her senior season by leading the nation in kills (715) and kills per set (6.01). The 5-foot-11 outside from the St. Louis suburb of St Charles decided to stay at home for college and writes about that here.

Rygelski was named the Atlantic 10 player of the year and in her last match, in the A10 tournament championship, she had 35 kills and finished with 2,000 career kills. She will graduate in May and we’ll see if her father comes through.

 

Danielle Rygelski
Danielle Rygelski

By Danielle Rygelski

In 2008, when I was 13 years old I told my parents I wanted to play volleyball in college.

Jokingly, my father looked at me and said, “If you get a full scholarship to college for volleyball, I’ll buy you a Corvette when you graduate.”

Fast forward to 2016, and I think my dad is regretting that promise.

My journey through volleyball has not been “typical.”

My dad had to drag me to tryouts at 10 years old, and when I made the team as a middle blocker, my whole world changed. I was a middle blocker until my sophomore year of high school, and then I transitioned into an outside hitter. I was most likely not going to make it where I wanted to go as an almost 6-foot middle blocker.

I played a lot sometimes, I played a little at other times. I looked at big schools, I looked at small schools. I suffered an ACL injury. And finally, I found my perfect fit with Saint Louis University.

My freshman year of college feels like it happened yesterday. I remember coming into summer school freshly cleared from ACL surgery and ready to work. With only 13 people on the team, my freshman class had to step up if we wanted this program to be what we pictured it could be.

With four true freshmen on the court in key positions, we took this 2013 team to places we did not know were possible. I vividly remember beating Dayton in their gym in five sets (even though I almost nailed the down ref with a serve).

We went into the conference tournament seeded fourth, when the season before, the team didn’t even make it to the tournament. I also remember walking up to the Abraham Lincoln memorial before the Atlantic 10 tournament in Washington D.C, and receiving a text that said “Congratulations on being named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year!”

I looked to my teammate and showed her the message and asked, “What does that mean?” I truly had no idea that they gave out these types of awards at the end of the season, but I was on top of the world. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round of the tournament, and that ended my first season at Saint Louis University.

A blink of an eye, and as soon as you knew it, sophomore season was under way. That was the year I learned that your spot on the court is not just handed to you, you have to earn it.  After a lot of ups, like beating Purdue in five in their tournament, and a lot of downs, like a small injury and getting swept in the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals, I knew that if I wanted to leave a lasting impression on this program, I needed to step up my game, and I only had two years left to do it.

Sophomore year was long and tasking, (I think the sophomore slump is a real thing), but when junior year came around I was prepared to play at a high level. Although we had a slow start, when we beat Alabama, Virginia, and Missouri in the same week I knew the 2015 Saint Louis team had something special.

So many outstanding things happened individually and collectively that year. I earned my 1,000th kill, which I would not have been able to accomplish without my passers and setter, in front of the biggest home crowd of my career. We worked our tails off to earn the No. 2 seed in the A10 tournament, and with a little luck, and a nice win from Davidson, we were looking at a bye in the first round.

Making it to the Atlantic 10 championship match was something this team only dreamed about. Disappointingly, we lost in a fashion that left a sour taste in our mouths, and we were confident that the next season, mine and my fellow classmates last year, was our year.

Senior year is something that I will never forget. Although the season as a whole was not what we expected it to be, I could not be more proud of myself, my teammates, and the way we ended our 2016 season. I was able to come up with 1,000 digs, 2,000 kills, break records, receive the A10 player of the ear award, and play in a thrilling Atlantic 10 championship match next to my 15 closest friends.

I could not have asked for a better way for myself and my fellow seniors, Taylor Paulson, Maryann Ejele, and Ashley Gagen, to go out. I realized that the past cannot be changed, and honestly does not matter. What matters is the moment you are currently in, and at that final moment, I could not have been happier to call myself a Billiken.

Looking into the future, I cannot tell you where I see myself.

As passionate as I am about volleyball and competing, I am also extremely passionate about educating our youth. It’s a hard decision to make, as to whether I would like to play overseas or start my teaching career, but I know when the time comes, I will make the right one. And even if I don’t end up playing professionally, I will find a way to be around volleyball, no matter what.

If I could give any advice to current and aspiring collegiate athletes, I would tell them to never take anything for granted, and to always live in the moment. Four years fly by, and when it is over, you are going to wish you had cherished each thrilling and heartbreaking moment a little more.

And at the end of it all, you won’t remember the statistics or the scores. You’ll remember the feelings and friendships you created. Those are what last a lifetime.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent article Dani. Amazing how we dream and it actually becomes a reality. You always had the determination to make it a reality. Your determination and effort are still very evident to even now reach goals you have no idea are still in your future ! I hope this personal “reflective sharing” gets viewed and read by many young women ; that may have similar dreams and know that they can be realized ! Thanks for sharing !

  2. Congrats on a successful season and college career, and thanks for sharing your thoughts. If you gave your all, you’ve learned what it means to be a winner, and you can move on to the next stage of your life with no regrets. Well done!

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