First-year Burris volleyball coach John Rodriguez sits by himself in the upper level of the Wes-Del bleachers attentively watching each point in the Kay Saunders Classic final.
This is an ideal early September scouting opportunity for Rodriguez, whose Owls play both of the finalists, Union and Wes-Del, late in the season. There are no pens in his hands or paper to jot notes on, however. The Burris coach holds only an iPhone in his right hand, and throughout the match, he is locked in on only one player — his daughter, Union senior setter Lisa Rodriguez.
In each of the previous three seasons, John watched her matches up close and personal as the Union coach. Now that he coaches Burris, their schedules usually conflict and he is lucky to watch his daughter play once every couple of weeks. He treasures those rare occurrences.
“I’ve gotten emotional because I’ve gotten to see it from a distance and really understand how much she’s learned about the game,” John said.
The fact John rarely sees his daughter play this season is, of course, by his own choosing, but Lisa had her say in the matter, too.
When the opportunity to coach 22-time state champion Burris arose for him after last season, Lisa selflessly told her father to accept the position.
“This is something he’s been looking forward to the whole time he’s been coaching volleyball,” Lisa said. “… I want what’s best for him. I was more interested for him because I knew Union was a thing he was doing for me.”
John landed his dream gig as only the fifth coach in the storied existence of the Burris program, but admittedly at a steep price considering he is missing out on coaching his daughter for her senior season at Union.
Lisa initially sought to follow him to Burris, but with zero open slots at the school, that possibility fell by the wayside. John said he and his daughter both tend to shut down when dealing with adversity, and Lisa said few words for the next few days after she learned there were no openings at Burris.
His daughter reacted similarly in the summer of 2010 when the family moved back to Indiana. Lisa begrudgingly left Dripping Springs, Texas, for a small town she never heard of by the name of Modoc.
“It was the last thing I ever wanted to do, and going from a school with 390 in my grade to a school with not even 390 in the high school and junior high put together, was a complete culture shock,” she said.
Lisa settled in by her sophomore year, though, and she now feels at home in the small town. In fact, she said, in hindsight, she is lucky to be spending her senior year at Union as opposed to trying to fit in with new classmates in a new environment at Burris.
The Union volleyball team is certainly benefiting from her presence. Lisa is in the midst of a stellar senior campaign as the setter for a Union team (15-6) that already upset Class 2A No. 6 Alexandria and took Class A No. 1 Wes-Del and 1A No. 9 Daleville each to five sets.
Lisa is the clear vocal leader of the defending sectional champion Rockets. She inherited some of her leadership traits from her intense father, and after he departed for Burris, she took ownership of a team transitioning to the softer-spoken Crystal Key as its coach.
“I feel like she doesn’t have as much pressure on her, and so she’s been able to step up and be more of a leader this year,” fellow senior Courtney Kinnaman said.
Said Lisa, “This season is more about me as a leader than me as the coach’s daughter.”
Lisa is primed to lead the Rockets to tournament success, but first there is a regular-season match of particular importance to her.
Union will play Burris on Oct. 2 in Ball Gym, and there, for the first time, she will be standing on the opposite side of the net as the team coached by her father.
“I honestly don’t even know what to expect,” Lisa said. “My team’s going to be pretty motivated to prove everyone wrong. It’ll just be a fun atmosphere and experience.”