By Trevor Wenners
Athletic Communications Assistant
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – It has been a season full of excitement and highlights for the Wesleyan University volleyball team.
One of the driving forces behind the Cardinals' rise has been the outstanding play of sophomore Nicole Hilton.
|Nicole Hilton has posted double-digit kills 16 times over the last two years.|
Wesleyan opened its 2017 campaign on an eight-match winning streak – not losing a single set during that run – as Hilton rattled off 11 kills and a season-best .643 hitting percentage during a sweep at Hamilton on Sept. 16. Wesleyan then opened up NESCAC action with seven straight wins, featuring six sweeps.
Hilton, who hails from Wantagh, N.Y., ranks No. 2 in the conference and 29th among all Division III players in the nation in hitting percentage (.343), while posting double-digit kills in eight matches this fall. The sophomore standout was phenomenal during a 3-2 win at No. 24 Christopher Newport on Sept. 23, recording a career-high 19 kills.
The 6-foot-1 outside hitter and middle blocker made an immediate impact for Wesleyan as a freshman, establishing herself as a force at the net with team highs of 190 kills and 2.24 kills per set, to go along with a .316 hitting percentage. The 2016 Cardinals (15-8, 6-4 NESCAC) earned the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament before falling, 3-0, to third-seeded Amherst in the quarterfinals.
This year, the second-seeded Cardinals will face off against seventh-seeded Williams on Friday at 5 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the 2017 NESCAC Tournament at Tufts in Medford, Mass. Hilton was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk about the postseason, while speaking about the future of the program.
Q: Could you talk about the team's mindset heading into the match on Friday?
A: Our team has been working extremely diligently in practice, and our mindset going into our match is to stay physically, emotionally and mentally disciplined during all aspects. Another thing that our team has been trying to focus on is every single person doing their system responsibilities and working for each other.
Q: The eight NESCAC victories this fall is tied for the second most in program history, and the most since the 2008 campaign. Could you talk about the excitement of the season, and did you envision that the team could be this successful?
A: After losing in the first round of the NESCAC Tournament last year, our team was extremely motivated to find success this year and in future years to come. In the offseason, our team worked very diligently, and when we returned for preseason we knew with the work and motivation of the returners, along with the talented incoming freshmen that we had what it takes to be a successful team. Also, our captains, Sarah Swenson '18 and Madeleine Lundberg '19, have been amazing leaders, and have encouraged and motivated the team from the start. There was no doubt from any of the players or coaches of our potential, and once we started finding success early in the season, our excitement and team chemistry continued to grow.
Q: During head coach Ben Somera's first year in 2015, the team went 1-9 in the NESCAC, then 6-4 last season and now 8-2 this fall. Could you talk about the way he has positively impacted this program?
A: He dedicates so much time toward making sure that everyone is in the best position possible to find success, whether that is by thoroughly planning practices, working with us individually on certain skills, going through film or organizing game-day schedules. He has taught us that in order to be successful not only do we have to focus on the skills and strategies we use in the game, but also to focus on the little details and the culture of our team.
Q: Even though you lost to Tufts, 3-1, to end the regular season on Oct. 28, could you talk about the positives that the team is taking from that match?
A: Our team used the loss as motivation for this past week of practice before the tournament to work on any of the things that hurt us last weekend. I think the loss, although disappointing, can be viewed as a change in perspective going into this weekend. Now we are put in the position to beat the undefeated team, which creates even more drive and motivation to fight and win the championship.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about the depth of the team?
A: Having a very large team, we have so many options of lineups and rotations that we can put on the court. There is so much depth within all positions, making everyone work harder and creating a positive competitive culture in the gym. With so many options, opposing teams find it difficult to create a defensive and offensive game plan because we can have several lineups and rotations of players, who have different skill sets from game to game as opposed to some teams who have the same starting six each game.
Q: When you think about the future with the Wesleyan volleyball team, what thoughts come to mind?
A: It is very exciting knowing that most of our current team will still be here in two years. Between the returners improving each year physically and mentally, and the addition of new players each year, Wesleyan volleyball will continue to improve and will be fighting for NESCAC, regional and hopefully national championships.
Q: Walk me through your pre-game routine, and do you have any superstitions that you do on game day?
A: The routine starts with going to a team lunch at Usdan. After that, the team does the same warm-up before all our games, and I always make sure that I do my specific handshake with Olivia Guidotti '20 and Audrey Konow '20 before the game. Also, I have not played a single game this season without wearing the same black scrunchie in my hair, and I will definitely have it for playoffs.
Q: In your free time away from school and sports, what do you enjoy doing?
A: I love skiing and going to the beach. Some of my hobbies include baking, and watching movies and vines.