November 26, 2008

Nicki Meyer officially inks with Ga. Tech

Nicki Meyer sat at a table in the Buchholz cafeteria on Monday afternoon flanked by her younger sister Gigi and parents Shelley and Urban with a pen in her hands and tears in her eyes.

Soon after, Nicki would sign a national letter of intent to play volleyball for Georgia Tech. But before that, she, her family and Bobcats' coach Jeff Reavis gave emotional reflections as to how Nicki, a libero, got to this point.

A few years ago, the scene was improbable to say the least.

When the Meyer family moved to Gainesville in early 2005 after Urban was hired away from Utah to become Florida's football coach, he was very much against putting their kids Nicki, Gigi and Nate in public school. But Shelley, a former high school outside hitter (then called "spiker") and still an avid volleyball player, got a call from a member of the community who suggested she meet Reavis, the director of the Gainesville Juniors club program and Buchholz's new coach.

Shelley was told "if you want your kids to get the best coaching, you want them to play for Jeff."

The Meyers met Reavis and toured Buchholz, and it didn't take much longer to sell Urban.

"I come from a different perspective than most parents in regards to coaching," Urban said. "So, I watched with a very critical eye. I can tell the difference in a well-coached team and a poorly coached team, and I could tell Jeff really knew what he was doing. I also could tell how much he cared about his players."

So, that was settled, but still there were issues.

Like many young high school students, Nicki was a bit rebellious. She didn't do bad things, but in instances like when friends were allowed to go out and she wasn't, she was vocal in her displeasure.

"She would get mad and say ‘I can't wait to get out of here and go to Utah or UCLA,'" Shelley said.

Also strained was Nicki's relationship with Gigi, younger by two years.

Shelley said Gigi used to try to tag along with Nicki and her friends, and would borrow clothes and other items without asking. It turns out, after growing up sharing a life that at one point saw them attend four different schools in five years, Gigi just wanted a friend that understood her.

"It's hard to move from place to place without a shoulder to lean on," Gigi said. "I really needed that. There were times when I never knew if that day would come."

Neither did Reavis, who once sat Nicki down and told her "look, you guys are going to be teammates soon, so you need to figure things out."

The last couple of years have seen many changes in Nicki.

Reavis said she grew from naturally shy to a take-charge leader. Shelley said Nicki told her last summer that Utah and UCLA were just too far away, that she wanted to stay closer to home because she would miss her family too much. And Gigi and Nicki now proudly call each other their best friends, a new relationship they both acknowledge they owe in great part to volleyball.

Shelley said she will miss her oldest child's sense of humor and how they now can talk about anything. Urban, a self-proclaimed "volleyball junkie" who joked to the signing day crowd he had just accepted a job at Georgia Tech, said he'll really miss Wednesday night dinners and how much he and Nicki bonded at those. And Gigi said volleyball season won't be the same without her big sister.

But they all said they were proud of and excited for Nicki.

"This feels like the start of a whole new beginning for me," said Nicki, who won an FHSAA Class 6A state championship as a junior. "Even though my high school season is over (following a loss to Orlando Timber Creek in last Saturday's regional final), I'm really excited to think about what the next four years has in store for me.

"I'm really going to miss being here and everyone that is here, but I'm also really looking forward to starting something new."


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