BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Nichole Walter said she has always loved volleyball. The sport just came naturally to her.
She was also a team captain during her days at Argos High School. She remembers giving pep talks to her teammates in the locker room.
She realizes now that those pep talks were laying the foundation to eventually become a coach.
And in fact, she was named the new volleyball coach at her alma mater last December and will start her first season when practice begins on Aug. 1. Argos’ season opener and Walter’s coaching debut will be at Tippecanoe Valley on Aug. 13.
Walter said a moment of reflection followed by a conversation with Shelly Newell, her former basketball coach at Argos, made her realize the impact a coach can have on a person’s life.
She refers to what she is doing now as “paying it forward.”
“It wasn’t until I left seminary to be a youth pastor, that I had been praying and asking God to show me my calling,” Walter recalled. “Soon after, a coaching position came open at Bremen. My first season was bumpy. I almost didn’t go back, but I had made a visit to Argos to bring my niece lunch for her birthday, and I ran into my old basketball coach Shelly Newell. I had told her how much of an impact she made on me in high school, in basketball, in her health classroom and in the several conversations she had with me.
“She had shared how proud of me she was. It was during those few moments in that conversation with coach Newell, I realized this person changed my life. I realized that coaching is a calling and the life-long impact volleyball, my teammates and my coaches made on me was instrumental in who I had become as a person.”
In fact, she developed such a passion for coaching that it transcended high school volleyball. She has also coached cheer, soccer, tee ball and travel volleyball, and she said she hopes to be involved in basketball coaching some day.
In addition to Newell, she also cites former Argos girls soccer coach and athletic director Jon Alcorn as a mentor even though she did not play soccer for him. She said she knew Alcorn as a youth leader.
“I watched Jon pour time and energy into his soccer team,” Walter said. “He built relationships with his players and created an environment which upheld excellence, athleticism and character on the field, in the classroom and among his players. … He has inspired me as a coach to not just step up for my athletes in my sport of volleyball but in their other sports as well.”
When Walter herself was in high school, she was a bit more focused on a single sport.
Walter played volleyball from junior high through four years of high school. She said she stopped playing other sports after her freshman year of high school to concentrate on volleyball. Not only did she play during the high school season, but she also played during the winter and summer seasons.
In college, she played rec league volleyball. She still plays volleyball today during the winter and spring and on the beach.
While Argos is her first head coaching job, she also has six years of previous coaching experience at Bremen as a varsity assistant and JV coach, and she also helped start a freshman program at Bremen.
She said she worked with 11 different coaches during her time at Bremen, and she said that has made her a more versatile coach.
She said she applied for the Argos job because she wanted to build her own program. She is aware that volleyball season is the same time as soccer season. Argos has won four consecutive sectional titles in girls soccer.
Argos is also a reigning sectional champion in girls basketball.
“When I had attended Argos as a volleyball athlete, it was always third, in comparison to soccer and basketball,” Walter said. “We never got the love like soccer and basketball got. We always had to work hard and always had to prove ourselves, not just on the court but in our sport within our school. I wanted to come back to change that.”
She said she was speechless and honored when Argos athletic assistant Kelli VanDerWeele called and told her she got the job.
She has held two camps already and asked girls who do not play soccer to give volleyball a try. She said she asked girls basketball coach Scott Jennings to send any girls to her who could use volleyball as a way to get into condition for basketball season.
“The truth is anyone is welcome to our sport and our team,” Walter said.
She said offseason workouts began in March. She said the players have had to learn a new defense, new attacks, new sets and new footwork.
And most importantly, she said there are team bonding sessions.
“Being in a sport is being a part of a family,” Walter said. “It is those moments the girls will remember forever, not the scoreboard.”
Walter said that Ondray Perez will be the JV coach and that Rachel Rife will be an assistant coach.
“It may take us time, but I have a feeling you may see some great things from this program in the future,” Walter said.