Oakes 2020 grad Nicole Schmitz moves 4,000 miles back home
Nicole Schmitz has been through a lot of different experiences the last three years.
FARGO — College students transfer schools all of the time, but Nicole Schmitz's journey has taken her across the Pacific Ocean and back again.
Following her freshman year spent at the University of Jamestown, Schmitz accepted an offer to move and play volleyball for the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, thereby beginning her unconventional journey.
"When competing for the University of Hawaii-Hilo Vulcans, I was pushed out of my comfort zone to learn a new style of the game and play with new people," Schmitz said.
"I met people from all over the United States, Australia and New Zealand. We had a good season and competed well in our conference. Our team struggled with injuries and trying to maintain was hard, but every team has its adversities you have to overcome."
Schmitz competed at the University of Hawaii-Hilo until she suffered a knee injury — a reality check that forced her to look past the moment and start thinking about her future.
Schmitz said she has always wanted to live somewhere tropical and take a step out of her comfort zone, so when the opportunity to move from Jamestown to Hawaii arose, she figured it was a once-in-a lifetime experience.
Prior to moving to Hawaii, Schmitz, the 2019 Class B Volleyball Senior Athlete of the Year, was competing at the University of Jamestown. Schmitz played one year under the direction of head coach Jon Hegerle and her presence on the outside aided the Jimmies in getting back to the 2021 NAIA National Tournament.
Schmitz said moving on from UJ to Hawaii was a huge jump. The former Jimmie said the culture of UJ was amazing and the people there will always be held close to her heart, but academically, the school just wasn't the fit she needed for her degree.
"I put my studies first, then I was given an opportunity I couldn’t pass up and jumped across the Pacific Ocean," Schmitz said. "The culture of both teams were definitely different, and adjusting was hard. But no one becomes a stronger person by staying comfortable.
"I won’t lie, it was extremely hard to be 4,000 miles away from my family and friends but the overwhelming support I received made me believe I could do it."
Schmitz wound up moving to Hawaii in August of 2021 and began practicing shortly thereafter. The Vulcans finished out their season at 17-7 overall and 14-6 in conference. In her six matches played, Schmitz tallied 42 kills, four blocks, two service aces and 51 digs.
The 2020 Oakes High School grad said moving across the ocean introduced her to new coaching styles and workouts like learning how to play beach volleyball.
"It was one of the most difficult workouts I have ever done, but the most rewarding to get to learn and perfect a different version of the sport I grew up loving," Schmitz said.
Still, while almost everything in her life had changed, Schmitz's favorite part of the game remained the same.
At UJ and in Hawaii, Schmitz said her favorite workouts have always been the team drills since those drills not only improve communication but also allow athletes to build relationships and get to know each other.
"I enjoyed getting to know my teammates at UJ and Hawaii so much," Schmitz said. "Everyone comes from so many different backgrounds and it makes you realize how big and small this world is.
"Volleyball has always had a huge impact on my life, and will continue to through the years. The lifelong friendships and memories it has allowed me to make, I will hold dear to my heart."
When she wasn't in the gym, Schmitz took the island by storm, taking opportunities to explore and experience the things of Hawaii like going cage diving with sharks.
"I wouldn’t trade the months I lived in Hawaii for anything," Schmitz said. "It helped form me into the person I am today and made me grow through tough situations.
"I figured that I was at a point in my life where change was needed and wanted to experience something a kid from North Dakota hadn’t gotten to before."
Still, it wasn't all smooth sailing and sunny days.
"One thing I really want to be tough on is mental health in athlete," Schmitz said. "The pressure we put on ourselves and our bodies to perform at an elite level can be overwhelming to say the least — especially during COVID times.
"Some parts of the world are still affected by this virus and still isolated, which can be really hard for college students and athletes such as myself. Mental health was something I really needed to focus on once I got back from Hawaii."
Schmitz said she had to — once again — choose what was best for her which was focusing on her studies, no longer competing collegiately and making the move back to North Dakota. Schmitz moved back for knee surgery in the middle of November.
Schmitz is coaching for Volt Volleyball in Fargo for the 17s and 18s teams. The soon-to-be college junior said this has been a push out of her comfort zone while still being involved with the sport in a different aspect.
In combination with coaching up a new generation of volleyball athletes, Schmitz is enrolled at North Dakota State University and is pursuing a degree in biological science with a pre-dental track.
Schmitz said if there is any advice she would give to a younger generation of volleyball athletes, it would be to take the road less traveled on and choose what works best for them individually.
"It’s scary, and going to be challenging at times," Schmitz said of choosing the unconventional. "But in the end, home will always be there and the growth you see in yourself later on is an incredible experience.
"In the end, the only opinion that matters is your own. Choose what is best for you and don’t let others influence your decisions. You are the only one that walks in your own shoes everyday. Trust in God’s plan for yourself, and take the leap of faith."