Manuela Nicolini, a graduate student on the Fairfield University women’s volleyball team from Castelnuovo, Italy, is entering her final year of eligibility to play. It is no secret that this year will be an interesting one due to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s decision to cancel the fall season, but Nicolini is confident that things will go well.

Nicolini is entering her fifth year with the volleyball team, with the ultimate goal of securing one final ring. Over her past four years, Nicolini and her team have won three MAAC Championships, making it evident that the Stags cannot be stopped.

Aside from volleyball, Nicolini has kept to a general routine in the COVID-19 climate of Fairfield University. With athletics back in session after a two week pause, her team lifts every day in the early afternoon, which allows her and her team to get some work done before heading off to afternoon and night classes.

The MAAC has announced that the fall season will be picking up play in the spring this year, meaning this autumn season has felt relatively dry for Nicolini. 

“It doesn’t feel like fall for me because I’m used to coming in August and getting to know my teammates,” Nicolini said. “It was kind of hard at the beginning to get to know each other and get comfortable with each other in and out of the gym.”

It is no surprise that it is a large change of scenery for an athlete to have their sport taken away from them, even if only for a brief period of time. However, Nicolini and her team are staying hopeful that in the future, they will be able to play and practice all together in a normal way.

Nicolini, although a graduate student at Fairfield, empathizes with her first-year companions, since it is so hard to make connections and work with them on a regular basis due to gathering restrictions. 

“With freshmen, it’s a new environment and they’re very overwhelmed, so as upperclassmen we didn’t want to put more weight on their shoulders,” Nicolini said.

On the side of volleyball, however, expectations are very high to succeed. “I have great confidence we’re going to do great in the spring, and I’m really happy with the energy and work ethic the freshmen are bringing to the team,” Nicolini said. 

This energy and hard work can likely be found in the team’s workout sessions, where they first started on Zoom three times a week and eased into small-group conditioning sessions in person. 

“We tried to keep people motivated and keep a little competition going, which was challenging, but I think everyone’s pretty satisfied with it,” Nicolini stated.

Nicolini has big plans for her future, and has multiple paths she could pursue. This is her first year of graduate school at Fairfield, and she still has two more years of graduate school to attend before she can become a certified counselor, which is her intended career. 

“I would like to work with adults and the elderly, or maybe college students,” Nicolini said regarding her hopes for a future career.

Since she hails from Italy, Nicolini plans to go back overseas after a few years, but she also plans to get a work visa so that she can live and work in the United States for a while first. “I want to stay on the east coast for a little bit, just because I am used to the lifestyle and I don’t know much about the rest of America,” Nicolini said. “I know when I go home I always have the option to play pro if I want to, so that’s in the background, just in case.”

Nicolini and her fellow teammates have been gearing up for the past few months in order to tackle this upcoming season, and it seems as though they are already in a good position to take over the MAAC once again. The Fairfield community has been waiting to watch Nicolini chase her fourth ring, and hopefully in the spring she will finally get the chance to do so.

 

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