Olivia Nicholson, left, and Amanda Young, right. Photo courtesy Colorado State University. Exactly two years ago, both Olivia Nicholson and Amanda Young were dealing with the same kind of emotional pain some 250 miles apart from each other. Tomorrow, the…
Olivia Nicholson, left, and Amanda Young, right. Photo courtesy Colorado State University.
Exactly two years ago, both Olivia Nicholson and Amanda Young were dealing with the same kind of emotional pain some 250 miles apart from each other.
Tomorrow, the pair of Nebraska natives will be on the same court experiencing the same emotional joy together.
Young, from Gretna, is the starting libero for Colorado State while North Platte’s Nicholson has carved out a niche as the most versatile player for the Rams this season. Both have been instrumental for Colorado State, ranked #23 in the nation, as the Rams have gone 28-3 and won the Mountain West Conference title.
On Friday, Colorado State will take on Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on the campus of defending national champion Stanford. Rams’ coach Tom Hilbert said he expects both Young and Nicholson to play key roles in the match – just like the duo has ever since they stepped foot in Fort Collins.
“Everything here has really fallen into place for me,” Young said Wednesday after practice. “I knew this was my dream school and after going to a couple volleyball camps here I knew playing here was what I wanted to do. I came in with no expectations and I didn’t care that I probably wasn’t going to get much playing time my first couple years. I just wanted to come in and work as hard as I could and make the rest of the team better.”
Two years ago, Young walked off the court with a silver medal at the Bob Devaney Sports Center after Gretna fell to Skutt Catholic 25-23, 29-27, 25-18 in the Class B state championship. As she did, Nicholson was walking onto the same court with her North Platte teammates to take on Omaha Marian in the Class A final. Nicholson, too, would later walk off the very same court with a silver medal after Marian won 26-24, 25-16, 25-20.
Although both would eventually make their way to Colorado State the following summer after graduation, the path they each took was different.
Nicholson was regarded as one of the best recruits in Nebraska as a dominant presence for North Platte. Nicholson chose Colorado State over a handful of other Division I programs and it’s a decision she hasn’t regretted at all.
“It’s been everything I had hoped and even more,” Nicholson said of her first two years at Colorado State. “I can’t envision being at any other school. Even if I weren’t able to play volleyball, this is still the place I would want to be. Fort Collins is like a bigger version of North Platte in that there is a real sense of community.”
Nicholson made an immediate impact at Colorado State, recording double-digit kills and digs in three of her first five collegiate matches. She started all 27 matches she participated in and had four kills and 11 digs for Rams in their 3-1 loss to Kentucky in last year’s first-round of the NCAA tournament.
It’s been a different story for Nicholson this year. In the off-season she had surgery to remove a bone spur in her right shoulder that had been bothering her since high school. During that surgery, however, doctors found an issue with her bicep tendon and had to reattach it. Recovery from that surgery has been slow for Nicholson and she’s been limited to 21 matches this year and has just 11 kills since late September.
As Hilbert said, Nicholson “just wasn’t hitting the ball hard and wasn’t terminating like we needed. But, she’s hung in there.”
Hilbert said while Nicholson lost her starting role as an attacker, she’s taken the time while she recovered from the shoulder injury to improve other aspects of her game and he expects her to be a big part of Friday’s match with Michigan.
“She has really improved her ball handling,” Hilbert said. “It looks to me that she’s going to play a lot Friday. She’s passing really well and doing all the things you need to do to play back row. She has always had a great feel for the game and has a good presence out there.”
Nicholson acknowledged this year hasn’t gone as well as she would hope personally, but has also seen the silver lining in what she has gone through.
“It’s been extremely challenging,” she said. “It’s definitely been a character builder for me.”
Young’s path to Fort Collins wasn’t as a high-profile recruit. She flew completely under the radar of most programs for a couple reasons. She spent most of her career at Gretna as a full-rotation OH before moving to libero her senior year. And, the 2016 class of liberos in Nebraska was loaded with the likes of Raegan LeGrand (USC), Brittany Witt (Creighton), Andie Hanus (Missouri) and Taylor Els (Northern Colorado).
Young, despite not expecting to play her first couple years, cracked the line-up immediately for the Rams as a DS – starting 15 matches and playing in 29. She had a season-best 13 digs in the NCAA Tournament against Kentucky.
Once Young got a taste of playing at the Division I level, she was ready for more.
“I knew I had a lot of work to do and I put in a lot of time in the offseason to get better,” Young said. “There were six back row players coming back, so there was a lot of competition and it pushed me to get better. When (coach Hilbert) told me I would be the starting libero I decided to take the opportunity and run with it and it’s been that way ever since.”
Young’s 400 digs are nearly twice as many as anyone else on the team and she is also the Rams’ top serve receiver and is second on the team in assists and service aces. So, how did a player that wasn’t expected to contribute much early in her career become the heart-and-soul of the back row for the 23rd-ranked team in the nation? Hilbert said it was actually a matter of getting the Young, who he said, “is a jet,” to slow down.
“It was just a matter of getting (Young) to play with more maturity,” Hilbert said. “She has always played hard, but she would bounce off walls and make mistakes from over-playing.”
Maybe Young has learned to slow down, and Nicholson a little more about herself this season, but the pair of Nebraska natives has continued to teach the rest of the country about the quality of players – and people – the state produces.