The Fairfield University volleyball team has been selected for the top spot in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll. The Stags are the defending MAAC champions, bringing back a strong team with a wide variety of talent. Individually, graduate student Manuela Nicolini, was named the MAAC Preseason Player of the Year after a stellar performance in the fall of 2019. 

The setter has had a decorated career for the Stags, which includes three MAAC Championships, and rising to fourth place on the Stags’ career charts with 3,052 assists. Nicolini was also named the MAAC Player and Setter of the Year in 2019, to become the first student-athlete in conference history to win two major awards in the same season.

The Italian athlete is a two-time Setter of the Year and two-time All-MAAC First Team, but has been a consistent performer since her first year, being a member of the MAAC All-Rookie Team in 2016. 

Nicolini, who was honored and flattered by the award, is not a big fan of individual titles. She thanks her teammates and coaches for developing her into the player she is today. 

 “I know that I can’t do anything without my teammates,” said Nicolini. “Volleyball is the ultimate team sport. I would like to thank my coaches and teammates, I truly do nothing, they just make me shine.” 

Nicolini is excited for the upcoming season and believes that the Stags have added to their already strong roster. The team has not played in over a year and a half, making them eager to get back on the court. 

“It is my last season so I’m very excited, I have a lot of goals,” explained Nicolini. “Our team is looking really good, the freshmen this year brought a very high level of standards to the team and the older players are doing great, we’re getting better every day so I’m very optimistic and excited about the season. I think we have very good chances to get another ring.” 

A championship ring would be a historic sending off for Nicolini, ensuring that she would be one of the most celebrated volleyball players to come through Fairfield University. She feels no added pressure with the preseason ranking or award, explaining the only thing on her mind is winning. 

“I don’t care if I win individual awards, I just want to win as a team,” said Nicolini. “I know all my teammates are 100% self motivated and self driven, our goal is to win the MAAC championship.” 

Like a true leader, Nicolini has gained admiration from her teammates and also her coaches. Head coach Todd Kress has watched Nicolini grow as a player throughout the years and believes there should be little doubt that she deserves the preseason player of the year award. 

“So much of what Manuela does is pretty evident on the court and on the stat sheet, but she also does a lot that may go unnoticed,” said Kress. “She gets all of our hitters involved and makes great decisions running our attack, she is one of the best blockers in our conference, and she is one of our toughest servers.” 

Along with Nicolini, teammates Joelle Battles ‘23 and Kaylie Butts ‘21were selected to the All-MAAC preseason team, showcasing the elite talent this Fairfield team has. 

The Fairfield University Volleyball team looks to build on last year’s conference championship, with another dominating campaign. Last season, they went 24-6 overall, and 17-1 in the MAAC. 

The Stags will open the season with a match on Sunday, March 7 against Rider University on the George Bisacca Court at Alumni Hall. The double header will mark the final matches being played at this venue before the new Arena and Convocation Center will take its place. 

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Fairfield U ‘22 | Sports writer | Sports media major | Essex, CT

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