Killing it On Court: Lexi SunApr 28, 2022 04:46PM ● By Greg Echlin
Photo provided by Borsheims
Because of the pandemic, University of Nebraska women’s volleyball player Lexi Sun was granted an extra year of eligibility in the 2021 season. On two distinctive fronts, the Huskers’ two-time, first-team, All-Big 10 outside hitter cashed in.
First, by being part of a high-profile and closely scrutinized team that nearly won the national championship. Then, on the heels of a major rule change last year, Sun benefitted from a business partnership with Borsheims, the reputable Berkshire Hathaway-owned jewelry company.
Pressured by multiple state legislatures around the country that passed their own respective laws for compensating college athletes over the use of their name, image, and likeness, the NCAA finally caved and shook up the state of amateur athletics over summer 2021. The governing body of college athletics loosened its regulations.
All three divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association adopted an interim policy as of July 1, 2021, to allow athletes still in school to benefit financially from NIL. In Nebraska, LB 962, now known as the Nebraska Fair Pay to Play Act, was signed into law by Governor Pete Ricketts on July 21, 2020. This permanent policy is set to take effect no later than July 1, 2023.
After graduating in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in communications studies, Sun was in the midst of her postgraduate work in advertising and public relations at UNL when the interim policy took effect. Sun didn’t quite know what she was in for when the NCAA’s new rules kicked in. “I kept my options open and was really excited to see what opportunities arose,” she said. “I was super-overwhelmed by the people reaching out.”
To her surprise, Sun said she received at least 50 potential suitors, including Borsheims.
Even before the new NCAA rules took effect, Andrew Brabec, the director of marketing and e-commerce for Borsheims, said the company had been studying potential partnerships with student-athletes still in college and zeroed in on Sun. Already aware of her volleyball resumé—first with the University of Texas as a freshman, then her three years with the Huskers—Brabec surmised that Sun became a premier player on the national level through her dedication to be the best.
That type of commitment, from Borsheims’ view, could carry over to insightful and sound business choices away from the volleyball court.
From the practical business side, Brabec also believed that Borsheims could expand its customer base through Sun’s social media connections. “It was great for us to get in front of potential new audiences and share our brand experience with her audience, knowing that she’s got several thousand followers on her Instagram account alone,” he said. As of presstime, Sun had 85,000 followers on Instagram.
From Sun’s perspective as a young adult with an increasing interest in fashion and jewelry, she admitted she was picky about the company she wanted to associate herself with. Sun preferred one that aligned itself with her values.
She said what pushed Borsheims to the forefront was, “I think they [Borsheims] were super-professional about what they were doing. They were really thoughtful. [In] our communication, you could tell that they are actual people and not just wanting to do a deal.”
Of course, the contract details had to be compliant with UNL and NCAA guidelines for Sun to not jeopardize her eligibility while in her final season with the Huskers.
“I know that Borsheims was super-intentional about wanting to do everything right,” Sun said. “With all the rules, they were always in communication with UNL, just making sure that they were on the same page, which was really helpful because we’re obviously both doing it for the first time. There are a lot of things that we’re learning.”
At the same time the Huskers took on a rugged Big Ten schedule, Borsheims customers were learning about Sun’s tastes in jewelry through what’s called the Lexi Sun Edit, i.e. her favorite selections from the jeweler’s display case. Sun’s image and choices were published on Borsheims website.
Borsheims president and CEO Karen Goracke said she and Sun hit it off right away through their common penchant for yellow gold jewelry. Beyond that, in a business that seeks to sell authenticity, Goracke found that there’s nothing fake about Sun’s personality. “I told Andy [Brabec] right away, ‘I want to get her parents’ address because I want them to know what a nice young lady they raised,” Goracke said.
She wasn’t just describing Borsheims jewelry when characterizing the partnership between the company and Sun, an Encinitas, California, native, as “a great fit.”
Sun understood that she was not only carving her own path in life beyond UNL, but opening possibilities for the women’s volleyball players who follow in her footsteps at UNL. “It was a history-making thing [the NCAA policy] and I think that a lot of companies understood that. They understand the weight that athletes hold in society,” she said.
Sun’s deal with Borsheims, which ran through December 2021, was for undisclosed terms. Sun, however, enthusiastically said they made it financially worthwhile for her.
Only a Huskers women’s volleyball national championship at the end of the season would have made it more fitting. The Huskers lost to Wisconsin, but Sun won, having finished her career ranked 19th at Nebraska for career kills.
Visit borsheims.com/lexi-sun for more information.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.