It’s never been surprising to see Masuk volleyball star setter Ana Castro-Rodriguez working with younger players during practice.
In fact, coach Carol Ortiz says it’s a common occurrence.
“If I allowed her to pick teammates for a game, she would always surround herself with freshmen,” Ortiz said. “And of course, she made them better.”
Castro-Rodriguez’s combination of skill and leadership helped both her and the Panthers excel in her three seasons as a starter, and also led to the senior being chosen as a winner of the Val Dickinson Memorial Volleyball Award this year.
The award, a scholarship presented by the Connecticut Federation of Volleyball Officials, honors the memory of Val Dickinson, a CFVO referee and assigner who lost her battle against cancer in 2008. Dickinson was a high school and college player who was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Volleyball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2009, and the award which bears her name was created in 2010.
For the award, the CFVO seeks players who have “exemplary volleyball skills, exhibit leadership, teamwork, coachability, and a love of the game,” and “consistently demonstrate courtesy, respect and good sportsmanship on and off the volleyball court.”
Castro-Rodriguez, a two-year captain for the Panthers, said she was honored to have been recognized by the CFVO.
“While I never had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Dickinson, it is clear she was an honorable woman who cared deeply for her family and for the sport of volleyball,” Castro-Rodriguez said. “Receiving this award among what I am sure was a pool of incredibly qualified candidates in her memory is a humbling achievement.”
As a setter, Castro-Rodriguez has been the engine which makes Masuk’s offense run. During her career, she’s collected 1,433 assists, while also racking up 264 digs, 237 aces and 133 kills in 209 sets. She is also a two-time All-SWC first team player.
Those numbers are impressive, but Castro-Rodriguez pointed to her time with teammates and coaches as the most enjoyable part of her volleyball career.
“After four years of playing on the volleyball court together, we have all become a family,” Castro-Rodriguez said. “We have shared ups and downs and still remain a close group. There is nothing better than celebrating all of our achievements together.
“Even with the end of our volleyball careers, I know these friendships will last a lifetime.”
Ortiz called Castro-Rodriguez “the heart and soul of this team for four years.”
Castro-Rodriguez joined the varsity squad during her freshman season and was the starting setter by her sophomore year.
Ortiz took over as Masuk’s head coach in 2019, and said she immediately knew Castro-Rodriguez was a go-to player for anything.
“Her skill level and knowledge are second to none,” the coach said. “All her teammates, young and old, looked up to her for everything, not only for volleyball skills. All the girls knew Ana would look out for them and would do anything for the program, along with setting a great example in school academically. She’s a leader in every sense.”
The chance to continue as a leader has Castro-Rodriguez thinking of coaching in the future.
“I have been playing volleyball my entire life and being able to give back to the volleyball community would be an amazing experience,” Castro-Rodriguez said. “I have had many opportunities to help out at volleyball camps and with younger teams and I’ve loved being able to teach aspiring athletes what I have learned over the years. Coaching would keep volleyball in my life and I hope to teach the game I love to younger players.
“Volleyball has shaped the person I am today and I hope others have the same experience I did.”