by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
20-year-old Mallory Nickelson followed the rest of her team off the court following a tough defeat to Trinity Christain College—who had just clinched the No. 1 seed heading into the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference postseason.
It has not been the greatest season for the women’s volleyball team, but they’ve played exceptionally well down the stretch by winning four of their final six games. Although they finished with a 12-18 overall record, seven of those losses were by one set, and they went 9-4 at home.
“Coach (Paquiz) told us we needed to be playing our best the entire month of October and we delivered,” Nickelson said, “ We’ve definitely stepped up our game and put up some key wins.”
Nickelson’s impact as the team’s setter has been one of the reasons why they’ve caught fire as they approach the season’s end. Her record-setting 68 assists against Indiana South Bend on Oct. 8 allowed Roosevelt to recover from a two set deficit to eventually win the game, and also earned her both CCAC Volleyball Player of the Week and National Association Intercollegiate Athletics Player of the Week honors.
“Mal is like the ‘quarterback’ of our team,” 20-year-old outside-hitter Sydney Mishler said, “There’s rarely a play that runs where she doesn’t touch the ball…she is very important to our team and how we function on the court.”
Nickelson’s position on the team comes with a load of responsibility. Coach Nicasio Paquiz Jr. said that Nickelson’s ability to stay disciplined both on and off the court is one of the reasons why he trusts her as one of the team’s cornerstones.
“I’ve had conversations with Mallory where she had to have some difficult conversations with teammates,” Paquiz said, “Although uncomfortable, it’s important that they happen in order for us to be successful. Mallory understands the importance of this, and in the process, has gained the respect of her teammates.”
Nickelson’s close-knit relationship with her teammates has also influenced the team’s play throughout the season. Her constant devotion to helping her teammates succeed creates a connection among Nickelson and the rest of the Lakers that is important to establish when playing setter.
“There is something super special about playing on the court with your friend, and that chemistry and connecting translates to how well you play together,” Mishler said, “She’s my setter, so the connection and understanding that we have on the court is so crucial to how we play, and that’s something that has been developed and worked on throughout these last three years.”
Coach Paquiz and the rest of the team said they have noticed the growth Nickelson has shown since first joining the squad. She credits Paquiz with helping her consistently put her hitters in the best possible position throughout the season, which has been a major factor in her contributions to the team this year.
“It’s been exciting to see her growth both athletically and academically for the past two seasons, and I’m looking forward to what she does during her Senior campaign,” Paquiz said.
Nickelson has also shown growth and discipline away from the court.
“I can speak on this as her teammate, but mostly her friend. Her confidence and assertiveness has grown so much,” Mishler siad, “She continues to stand up for what she believes in…She will always go to bat for you when you need her.”
Nickelson sat alongside her teammates as the team bus cruised towards Joliet for the Lakers’ final game of the regular season against the University of Saint Francis Fighting Saints. The Missouri-native has put together a memorable Junior campaign for Roosevelt, but remains focused on helping her team end the season on a high note against a difficult opponent.
“I can’t just focus on myself or my own stats because it’s a team sport and I need my teammates,” Nickelson said, “I can’t thank my team enough for helping me achieve CCAC Player of the Week and NAIA Player of the Week. If it wasn’t for my back row giving me great passes and my hitters putting the ball away, I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish everything I have this season.”