By Tom Terzulli
After narrowly missing out on the Atlantic 10 tournament last season, the Fordham Volleyball team is primed for a deep playoff run, given they only graduated one player last year. Their 8-5 non-conference record is their best since 2009 and at 2-4 in conference, they have hung with some of the best in the A-10. Nicole Freely leads all seniors with 55 kills and 26 blocks including a season-high six kills on Sept. 16 in a win against St. Francis Brooklyn. The Rochester, New York native talked to The Fordham Ram about her early volleyball life, her time at Fordham and her plans for the future.
TFR: When did you first start playing volleyball?
NF: I first started playing volleyball in the seventh grade, and the only reason I did was because my dance teacher at the time told us to try different sports while we weren’t in competition season, so I tried out for the team and ended up making it!
TFR: Was there a moment in your high school career when you realized you could do this at a higher level in college?
NF: My ah-ha moment actually came while playing club when I was 16. At our club, the 18s team coach uses it as a year to prep everyone before they go to their respective colleges to play, and one day he came to our game and watched us play and afterwards he came up to me and gave me a giant hug and said you have to try out for the team next year, you are going to play for me, and that was the moment I knew that I could play at the collegiate level.
TFR: Why Fordham?
NF: When I came to visit Fordham, I had been doing a college tour with my dad and as soon as I stepped on campus I knew that this was the place for me. I could see myself going to school and playing volleyball for this school, and I love NYC so it was a no-brainer.
TFR: What was that first practice as a Fordham Ram like?
NF: The first practice I had as a Ram, I was so nervous that I was going to mess up and the rest of the team was going to wonder why I had even been recruited in the first place, but everyone was supportive and very helpful in those first days and really made me feel like I belonged here.
TFR: Did you take to your coach right away?
NF: Naturally, I am a very shy person, so when I meet new people I’m not always the most inquisitive or talkative, but Gini is, so she explained a lot of what the process was going to be like and was always available if I had any questions, so I was put at ease.
TFR: What is your relationship with her now?
NF: Relationships changed and developed over time and as the team has grown, our relationship has grown and matured.
TFR: What do you believe is behind the resurgence of the team this year? What is different?
NF: I think a lot of the resurgence of the team this year was being so close to making it to the A-10’s last season, that we want it that much more this year. We only graduated one senior last spring so the entire team was back and we were able to work through any problem areas we had last season to ensure that we were one step closer to achieving our goal of making A-10s.
TFR: The team consists of a lot of young players in big roles. Do you ever put it on yourself to mentor them?
NF: As a senior, and being in the program for my fourth year, there is a lot of knowledge that I have and give to the younger players, especially those that are in big roles on the court. A lot of trust on the court comes from the way we carry ourselves off the court and the relationships that we build with each other, and the more comfortable we are with each other the more advice we take or seek from one another. Sometimes I let the younger players come to me if they need anything but I also take it upon myself to help them out if it is something that I have been through before and can help them through.
TFR: What is your biggest strength on the court and biggest weakness?
NF: Biggest strength on the court is not something technical but always being someone who can light up the team with my energy. My old club coach used to call me a spark plug and that is something that I try to bring everyday. Biggest weakness is that I show every emotion on my face. I am not very good at hiding what I am feeling when I am in the moment, so teams can easily tell when I’m angry, frustrated or happy. I have gotten better at hiding it but it still is something I need to continue to work on.
TFR: What are your plans for after graduation?
NF: Plans for after graduation right now are to relax and enjoy the last time its acceptable to be unemployed, maybe travel, although my parents probably want me to be looking for a job so they can stop feeding me all the time.