Oct. 17, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Gaining confidence and playing time at the collegiate level can be a Catch-22 for a young player.
The youngster needs to have confidence to be effective and earn time on the floor, yet until she earns that playing time, she can’t prove her effectiveness and develop the confidence that goes with it. Around and around it goes.
When a player breaks that spiral, it’s a wonderful thing to watch. Nicki Meyer has, and her play is.
“I think the biggest thing for Nicki has been the ability to get in there and create the confidence that she needs to play full-time,” said Assistant Coach Craig Bere. “She’s always had the talent. She’s always been a great defender, if not one of the best defenders on the team, but we needed the serve-receive and she’s getting better in that. She’s getting a better touch on the ball, she’s being a lot more consistent there and her confidence is coming around. That is huge for her.”
Including Sunday’s 3-1 victory over North Carolina State at O’Keefe Gymnasium, the Yellow Jackets’ sixth straight and second at home in ACC play (the first was Friday night), the former star at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Fla., is third on the team in total reception attempts (222) and has made only 12 errors, a .946 percentage, behind senior Libero Jordan McCullers (.956 in 476 tries) and fellow sophomore Susan Carlson (.965 in 375 attempts) among Jackets with at least 100 attempts.
As in often the case, all Meyer needed was an opportunity to show she could get the job done. Her opportunity came on September 18, the second day of the Clemson Classic against Florida A&M and Georgia State.
“[Head Coach Tonya Johnson] was like, ‘You’re going to start both of these matches. Go play with all the confidence in the world,'” she recalled. “That’s exactly what she said. I went out there and I had two really great matches that day. Ever since I’ve been playing and it’s been getting easier and easier and easier every weekend.”
It’s also been getting easier and easier and easier for Johnson to find time for Meyer on the floor, as she’s earned the trust of her coaches and teammates.
It’s a different Nicki Meyer and she’s making a big difference.
The Jackets are 6-2 in matches since her debut, having dropped a total of 13 games in the 10 matches, winning four of them at love.
“Nicki’s made a huge difference for us,” said McCullers. “She’s got her confidence up now. She’s very assertive in the back row. She’s passing great, and her defense, she’s very scrappy on defense and has been making some incredible ups and some incredible digs. It’s been really cool to watch her develop and gain range in the back row and also gain her confidence and really be able to make a difference for this team.”
“It’s her confidence level,” added senior setter Mary Ashley Tippins. “This year you can just see it in her eyes. Each game she improves and she wants the ball. She’s being more aggressive and taking more balls in the back row and I hear her voice out in the court. She’s definitely a presence out there.”
That presence was especially felt last weekend, when Meyer returned to Florida, this time as a contributor, for matches at Miami and Florida State. Tech won both, 3-2 and 3-0, and Meyer totaled nine digs, including a career-best five against the Hurricanes.
“I don’t know,” she said. “My mom was there and I had people watching me in both games. So I was really excited about that and knew that I had something to show them because they hadn’t seen me play yet for Georgia Tech because last year I didn’t play. So it was just really exciting for me to have them there. My mom was there and my family, so maybe, a little bit.”
She was as excited heading into this past weekend, a different homecoming for the team, after back-to-back weekends on the road. This weekend was the first home matches since the disastrous weekend in September when they were swept by Duke and Wake Forest. Following that match, Johnson declared a new season starting immediately. The Jackets haven’t lost since.
“Everything seems to be clicking and I think we have a really good rhythm right now, with everyone just trusting each other when we’re playing,” she said. “Things are starting to fall into place. It’s not me. It’s everyone together.”
Following the sweeps of North Carolina and N.C. State, the home crowd now knows and is loving these new Jackets. As the season proceeds, they’ll get to know and feel the same about the new Nicki Meyer.
She’s confident of that.