Coming out of high school in her native Wauconda, Ill., Madeline Westman had never even heard of UNLV until she was recruited by the Rebels.
“I didn’t really know there was a school in Las Vegas,” she said.
Four years later, the 6-foot-3-inch senior middle blocker has left a big imprint on UNLV’s volleyball program — becoming the school’s career leader in total blocks (489) and assisted blocks (424) while ranking third in sets played (429) and fifth in kills (962).
“It’s pretty exciting to know I’m leaving my mark on UNLV history, for at least a little while,” Westman said. “(My career) has more than lived up to my expectations. I came in not even really knowing what I was doing. I was a scared little freshman.
“I feel really blessed and lucky to do all this, to have played four years and say that I’ve accomplished something.”
A two-time all-Mountain West selection, Westman also has excelled in the classroom, where she took a 3.86 grade point average into her senior year and recently earned one of seven spots on the CoSIDA Academic All-District 8 First Team. Last year, she was named to the second team.
“In high school, I was a nerd,” Westman said. “I didn’t love to study, but I spent a lot of time studying. I like to challenge myself.”
In addition to growing as a student and player — where she has helped UNLV improve its record in each of her first three seasons — the communications major has blossomed as a person.
“When I came in my freshman year, I was really shy. I hadn’t really broken out of my shell yet,” she said. “I’m still not the most outgoing person, but I’ve come a long way. I’ve opened up a lot, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve matured a lot through the years.
“I’m very much changed since my freshman year.”
Rebels coach Cindy Fredrick said Westman is an ideal student-athlete.
“We want our players to be good students, good athletes and good people. Maddy is absolutely one of those,” she said. “She’s a very humble player and a very hard worker. She is the kind of person and player you want as a coach.
“She’s 6-3 and long and lean but she’s strong and that’s what we like to see. She’s always had a desire to get better.”
When Fredrick and her husband, Mashallah Farokhmanesh, took over the UNLV program three years ago, they inherited Westman, fellow seniors Stephanie Thelen and Sekola Falemaka and redshirt junior Katlin Winters.
Together, they have helped turn around the program.
“They’re learning to really battle and that’s a big part of it,” Fredrick said of her squad. “Just teaching your athletes to be competitive, that’s huge. I don’t know when we got here that we felt they were and that they thought they were.
“The culture of the program has changed a tremendous amount since we got here. It’s really fun to watch players advance as players. They’ve grown a lot.”
Westman said she and the other upperclassmen are glad they gave their new coaches a chance.
“They really have turned this program around and made it so much more fun,” she said. “Going through these four years with these girls, I think we all learned a lot from trials on and off the court.
“It’s been a really great ride and it’s really bittersweet it’s coming to an end. I’m going to miss everything about it.”
In the middle of the Mountain West pack, UNLV fell to 14-11, 9-6 after Monday’s 25-18, 29-27, 25-21 loss at San Diego State.
Coming off an 18-win season in which they placed third in their conference, the Rebels nearly upset 10th-ranked Colorado State (23-0, 14-0) — one of the nation’s two unbeaten teams — earlier this season at home, losing the decisive fifth game, 15-13.
“I really like this team,” Westman said. “Our team chemistry is really great this year and we have really talented girls.
“We have the potential to have our best finish in my four years.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.