Nicole Tate: Leading by example, setting her team up for success

Nov. 5, 2010


If you go to the Horejsi Family Athletics Center to watch a KU women’s volleyball game, chances are you may have to look a little bit closer to find this week’s featured athlete.

That’s because you won’t see her making an in your face attack or an intimidating block. Just a simple set or graceful dig will do for junior setter Nicole Tate.

“I like to be in the shadows,” Tate said. “I don’t like being in the spotlight, it’s just not my thing. Instead, I like to be that person that works behind the curtain. That’s why I enjoy being a setter so much because I don’t get the credit and I don’t want the credit. I want the hitters to look good and to become big superstars, that’s what I like.”

Whether she likes the lime light or not, the now upperclassman saw plenty of it last season as a sophomore, when she started in all 30 of her team’s matches. That invaluable playing experience prepared her for this season when she would be looked upon to set an example for some of her squad’s younger players.

“Being an upperclassman you have to set the tone for the rest of the team because they are following you,” she said. “But I like to be a leader through my effort out on the court, not by actually being vocal. I’m more of a quiet person; leading by example is how I like to do my part.”

That quiet nature she possesses is something Tate’s carried since she was a child growing up in Saint Louis.

“My mom said that I didn’t talk until I was about five because my older sister would talk for me,” she said. “I was just quiet and people would ask, `Does she (Nicole) speak?’ And `Is she okay?’ And I would just mumble something to my sister and she would say, `Yeah she’s fine.'”

Despite her quiet demeanor, growing up Tate had a passion for sports that she wasn’t too bashful about. In fact, there were times she actually turned some heads.

“When I was in middle school I played (soccer) with the boys because the girls would go sit down on the playground,” she said. “I went to a catholic school and when I was in third grade the girls weren’t allowed to play with the boys, so I would just sit there and watch them play. So finally after a while, the principal said `Okay fine, the girls can play with the boys’ and I was the first one on that field, saying `Okay let’s go!’.”

That enthusiasm is something Tate still has to this day when she suits up and goes out on the court to compete.

“The biggest thrill for me is just being out on that court in front of the whole crowd,” she said. “That’s an experience we (the team) get to have two times a week and not everyone can do that.”

Tate knows as a junior she only has one year left after the 2010 season to have those same experiences before her playing days are over.

“After KU I think I might be done,” she said. “My body is tired and I’m ready to move on.”

For Tate, moving on might not be too far away from where she finds herself after some practices.

“I’m currently studying exercise science to try and become a physical therapist,” she said. “After being in the training room, I’ve kind of grown to like that setting. It’s interesting knowing how the body got broken, but then learning how you repair it and watching some of the other trainers fix people up, it’s just fascinating to me.”

Before the junior can start contemplating her life after volleyball, she still thinks she has a lot to accomplish. That includes helping her team and coach Ray Bechard get back to the NCAA Tournament, a place they haven’t been since 2005.

“This is a really good team we have this year,” she said. “We’ve definitely had some ups and downs but the hope is in November for it to be a memorable time for us and hopefully get in the tournament.”

Whether Tate finds herself playing in the field of 64 next month or just finishing up another stellar season as KU’s setter, chances are you won’t really notice her when she’s out on the court, but if you ask her, she would be perfectly okay with that.