May The Best Friend Win

August 15, 2011

By Jon Cooper

Nicki Meyer and Susan Carlson have a lot in common.

They’re both juniors, both came from sunny out-of-state locales, both love to win, and both are exceptional and rising talents at the libero position.

Up until this year, that last commonality — especially the rising talents part — was important, as they could relate to each other’s issues as both sought to improve. Playing time was a bonus, as Jordan McCullers started.

Both saw playing time last season, and should see substantial playing time again in 2011, with one of them seeing a bump in playing time as the starter.

So it’s “Game On!” for the friends.

Both insist that regardless of the outcome, their friendship will not change.

“Susan is one of my best friends on the team and [the competition] has not affected our friendship at all,” said Meyer, the Gainesville, Fla., native, who saw action in 94 sets and 30 matches, recording 94 digs, 11 assists and a service ace. “We push each other and we help each other and we talk to each other. We don’t at all try to make the other person worse like some people would. We really do try to help each and make each other the best that we can be. So it’s actually been really great.

“It was just the two of us for Spring and all of the individuals that we did together, we just worked our butts off,” she added. “That’s all competition does for me. It makes me work my absolute hardest every single day, knowing that there’s somebody right there. If I’m not doing my job then Susan is. It’s more of a motivation thing than anything, but it’s really cool to have it with Susan because we’re such good friends. It really has been fun.”

Carlson agrees.

“Nicki and I compete really well together,” said the Pasadena, Calif., native, who saw action in 115 sets and 31 matches, recording 222 digs, with 50 kills, 31 assists, 29 service aces and seven total blocks. “We’ve both been in hard situations competing with other people and we’ve both been in really good situations competing with other people. We work really well off of each other because no matter what, we’re such good friends that I want her to do really well. Each of us has our own personal goals but at the same time we’re going to be playing no matter what. So we’ve got to do well for the team if we want to advance to the next level.”

Head Coach Tonya Johnson is eager to see how things materialize and hopes that the two can check their friendship at the door for a few hours during practice.

“I hope it’s not a friendly competition,” said Johnson. “Those two are really good friends but I hope they know that that competitive side of them needs to come out and it’s about getting out on the court and getting some playing time. I think they both had great springs and they were both here this summer. They got a ton of reps this summer. So I’m looking forward to seeing those guys go at it for that spot.”

That spot is one of two that will highlight preseason practice, which ends in 11 days, when the Yellow Jackets take on Kansas State at 7:00 p.m. at O’Keefe in their first match of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Classic (Tech also will meet Tennessee Tech at 12:30 p.m. and Louisville at 7:00 on Saturday).

“It’s crazy. You always think the preseason lasts like a month and then you get into it and you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, in two weeks, there will be six people on the court and those will be the starters,'” said Carlson. “In two weeks, which is crazy because the season lasts for so long. It’s just weird.”

The short practice period further compresses and intensifies the time period to settle the starting position. But they feel that there won’t be a loser in this competition and ultimately the winner is going to be the Yellow Jackets.

“It is team first,” said Meyer. “We both understand that because we know whoever gets that spot is going to be the person that helps us win, which is the most important thing to us.”

“I think at the end of the day, they’re still at an age where friendship is really, really important to them,” said Johnson. “They’ve got to understand that somebody’s got to win the battle. Why not one of them? So they just need to understand that while they’re on the court it’s business and it’s about competition because at the end of the day it’s about the team. So hopefully one of them will step up and be ready to take on the challenge.”

Of course, senior co-captain and outside hitter Bailey Hunter hinted that while they’re pushing each other, Meyer and Carlson might also want to be aware of a potential dark horse, in incoming freshman Zoey Morton.

“Nicki and Susan were here this spring and fought hard for that and worked really well together,” said Hunter. “Zoey’s here now and she brings a lot to the table. So I’m excited to see how that pans out. Like one day you think one person has it and the next day someone else does. There’s not a clear-cut starter. So I’m excited for that.”

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