By Havanna Hagans
Known as the Colonel volleyball player who throws her whole body into the game, digging even the most un-savable balls, Brittany Nobilio, the Libero from Johnsburg, Ill., is the lone senior.After giving up softball to play club volleyball years ago, Nobilio said she did not know how she would perform in college. But she took a chance.
Three Ohio Valley Conference Championships, 2,454 digs (the third highest in the NCAA) and scores of injuries later, she has made it to her senior year.
After playing four years for, Nobilio said her goodbyes and hung her uniform up for the last time.
“I’ve just always enjoyed it,” Nobilio said. “It’s kind of weird to be done now. I feel like I should be going to the next level or something, but I’m done. It definitely was an experience for me.”
Growing up, sports played a big role in Nobilio’s family. Her dad coached football, her mom coached cheerleading and her older brothers played co-ed volleyball. Although her mother never had the opportunity to take volleyball on as a sport, Nobilio said her Aunt Patti had a lot of experience.
Nobilio has played volleyball since she was 10 years old, and she gives the starting credit to Aunt Patti, who played the sport in college.
“I was surrounded by it,” Nobilio said. “My Aunt Patti was like, ‘You should give this a try,’ and so I went to tryouts. My mom was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? It’s a big commitment.’ Then I followed the footsteps of my aunt.”
Since then, Nobilio’s two younger sisters have participated in the sport and played the libero position.
Consistency, competitiveness and the drive to succeed are all qualities of a good volleyball player, Nobilio said.
Despite a disappointing team record, and a continuous struggle to get the ball rolling with a winning streak, Nobilio and her teammates continued to grow and push for success. The number of losses increased, but so did her rank as a volleyball player.
Moving forward was difficult. But, by setting individual goals for herself, Nobilio was able to hold her head up and trudge forward in the line of victory.
If she could avoid backing down on her serve during highly intense games, that would eliminate one portion of the drag and improve her skills as a player, she said.
Her first three years at Eastern were highly successful. The team played in the NCAA tournament her freshman year and won the OVC. But, with almost a new team for the 2007-2008 season, the results were not as promising.
“This year was pretty disappointing. It was definitely different for me, especially being the only senior because you have to set the example,” Nobilio said. “We never had a streak where we kept winning. It’s hard to want to play when you’re not doing that great, especially towards the end when you know you don’t have much of a chance left. You’re just kind of playing for your name.”
During Nobilio’s freshman year, Leslie Aldridge was the only senior for the Colonels, and in the eyes of Nobilio, she was a great role model.
“I thought she did a great job leading the team, reassuring us things were going to be ok even though they weren’t all the time. just someone who has a good attitude, someone who is tough but at the same time you can have fun, someone who can set a good example for the whole team.”
It was the continuous support and bonding with her teammates and family that also guided Nobilio through the rougher times of the season. She said Seeing her mother in the stands and receiving phone calls from her siblings helped keep her thinking positively.
“If I didn’t like my teammates, I don’t think that I would’ve been able to keep going,” Nobilio said. “This year what I found very good about our team was, we clicked really well. Your team chemistry has a lot to do with what’s going to motivate you to keep going. You’re out there and you’re doing it for your teammates, so if you have good chemistry, it’s going to make you want to keep going even more.”
When senior night rolled around, a lot of people were skeptical of whether or not the Colonels would pull out a win. But the Colonels had something else up their sleeves: determination to be the best and an unspoken goal not to let the lone senior down.
Inside the locker room, the players, all with matching headbands, squeezed hands prayed for the best. Even Coach Lori Duncan used the headband material as a scarf of inspiration for the night.
As an old club habit, Nobilio wears a headband during each game, and for the last two years, there was a new one for every match, all of which serve as a memory from a win or a loss on the record.
“I just had the feeling we were ready to play,” Nobilio said. “I could tell everyone was excited and happy because it’s a fun time. We went out and we played like we knew how.”
Even with what it would appear as nothing else to play for, Nobilio took inspiration from her team, her family and her coaches.
“Coach Matt this year always said, ‘Play for that E on your chest.’ I always thought that was cool when he said that,” Nobilio said, “because you’re representing the school, and I think the coolest part is going out and winning just because you’re Eastern Kentucky and they’re not.”
Coach Lori Duncan has served as head coach for the Colonels for all four of Nobilio’s years as a player.
“I’ve never met someone who cared about their players so much,” Nobilio said. “She’s definitely tough, but at the same time, she would do anything for us.”
Nobilio has survived a career in college athletics that has not only been a trying one mentally, but also a testament to her abilities to cope with injuries. From stress fractures to dislocated toes, wearing boots and hobbling on crutches, Nobilio has experienced it all.
“I’m a competitor,” Nobilio said. “It’s part of my nature I guess. I want to go out there and pretty much bust my ass the whole time I’m out there on the court. I’m never going to give up. I want to be successful, and I’ll do whatever I can to be successful.”
When a team is the underdog, it should use that to its advantage because its opponents might come into a game without as much preparation as if it were playing the team to beat. Nobilio said this is one practice she wished her team had used.
Although her work is done as a Colonel volleyball player, Nobilio said it is her desire to stay in Richmond and help with the team.
“Volleyball is a big part of my life. It kind of has been my life for 10 years now,” Nobilio said. “It shapes a person. It helps you grow and see what’s out there. This year was definitely tough, but things will get better.