HARKER HEIGHTS — Shantraie Rodriguez could feel the emotion welling up inside her.
As she stood to face friends and family during one of the proudest and most nerve-wracking moments of her life, the 6-foot-1 Harker Heights middle blocker looked down and caught a glimpse of former teammate Deysia Burden shaking in the seat next to her.
“I’m going to be hard; I’m not going to cry, I’m not going to cry,” Rodriguez told herself.
Only, as soon as her eyes darted toward her mother on her right, tears had already begun to stream down her cheeks, and she just let them flow.
“I was like, ‘Aw, Lord, here they come,’ and then I saw my mom and it was, ‘Aw, Lord, I can’t catch a break,’” Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t get my words together, so I had to breathe, and then I was like, ‘I can’t even talk, mom, help me.’ I wanted her to whisper something to me.”
And the crying didn’t stop for awhile as Rodriguez and Burden, who made up the half of the Lady Knights’ fierce four-deep front line this past volleyball season, joined together Wednesday afternoon to sign letters of intent to play Division I volleyball at Siena College and Southern University, respectively, during a joint ceremony at the high school.
“The whole signing day is exciting, and you get everybody watching you and you have these papers in front of you and you’re giving your life away to this college and its just makes you even more nervous,” Burden said. “I think what scared me more is I don’t really know what’s in store, I mean I have a good idea what I’m getting into ... but at the same time, I’m kind of ready for it,” Rodriguez added.
Waiting until the tail-end of the club season to sign, the recruitment process certainly had both girls rethinking their next steps. Both Siena and Southern showed heavy interest, and it only took one visit for both Burden and Rodriguez to fall in love with their new homes.
“It was so overwhelming. I told my mom so many times, ‘I’m done, I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to even play volleyball in college,’” Rodriguez said. “But then I got a call from Siena and (the coach) started talking to me more and I was like, this could be something good for me, so I figured I might as well get on this roller coaster.”
Burden and Rodriguez are the third and fourth college-bound players from the District 8-5A runner-up Lady Knights (35-7), who reached the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“When you got two kids like that who are willing to learn, move really quick and can do the things that it takes to get in front of the ball to block it, it was a pretty devastating front row,” Heights volleyball coach Chris Wiley said.
Bubbling with emotion and unable to gather her thoughts, Rodriguez pulled out her cell phone and read a prepared statement she had saved there just for moments like this.
Burden choked back tears herself, slyly trying to wipe them away before they would leave their mark on her face, but the emotion of the moment was felt by all in attendance.
Nicknamed the “twees” — for “twin trees” — or “The Forest” for their large frames and imposing presence across Heights’ front line, Burden and Rodriguez were each overjoyed they got to share the moment with the another.
“We just knew what we had to do when we got out there, and me and her had that understanding. ... So I think that’s why we flowed so well, because we wanted to get the job done,” Rodriguez said.
Burden said: “I think we just knew how to talk to each other — communication — and just as a team, we were a family ... so signing with a family member, one of my sisters, is amazing, an honor.”