From the court to the reptile house, Olivia Nicholson’s life has many layers

Luke Zahlmann

Dubbed a swiss army knife by many of her teammates, junior Olivia Nicholson is showing her overwhelming versatility in and out of Moby Arena.

Nicholson was recruited as an outside hitter, one that received several accolades in high school including Associated Press All-State First Team in Nebraska. Since her opening year, she has been forced to adapt.


Whether it is shifting over to libero for Colorado State volleyball to replace fellow junior Amanda Young or making her way through the world of wildlife in Zoology.

With star outside hitter, redshirt sophomore Breana Runnels taking the lead in hitting, Nicholson has become a player that embraces several skill sets. A shoulder surgery was another factor in Nicholson’s position switch.

“(Coming in) we knew she’d be an all-around player,” Coach Tom Hilbert said. “She can play the whole game. She sees the game, she’s a much better player when she’s just reacting.”

That reaction time has given Nicholson the ability to even make up for 2017 Mountain West Player of the Year, junior Katie Oleksak when opposing teams seek the setter out on defense. That, along with her naturally soft hands when handling the ball is something that has paid off for the Rams. 

Sophomore Olivia Nicholson makes a huge dig in the final set of the home opener against the Duke Blue Devils on Aug. 25, 2017. (Elliott Jerge | Collegian)

“It’s very comforting to see her (in the back) and know that she is a good setter,” Oleksak said. “She (is good with) her hands and she communicates well when I get that first ball, she always steps in.”

An ability to make her way through each position for the Rams in her career has forced the CSU coaches to ensure she is on the court at all times. That presence, though sought by the staff, is one that has not been without speed bumps.

A hitter and defensive specialist by trait, Nicholson’s presence has been missed by the team in her absences. As a player that has missed five games per year in her Rams’ career, Nicholson is no stranger to adversity. 

“Last year (it) was pretty difficult to not play in games,” Nicholson said. “Sometimes (starting), sometimes not, I think mentally that was really hard for me after starting for (so long).”

Whether it was a concussion, a shoulder injury, or another various ailment, Nicholson has dealt with the Rams’ training staff often. Last year, she was forced to miss ten games, nearly a third of the year, due to her aforementioned shoulder surgery. 

The conditions do not stop Nicholson from contributing when she’s forced off the court though as her teammates rely on her for strategy and motivation. That boost comes both in the form of game planning and extra work in their studies.


Her father, Steve Nicholson, was a science teacher in both middle and high school, instilling a work ethic in the textbooks that rivals her love of volleyball.

The love of learning has propelled Nicholson to not only a Nebraska State Athletic Association Academic All-State honor in high school, but also a pair of Mountain West Academic All-Conference awards in her two full years in Fort Collins.

As a team leader, Nicholson has even made it a point to help her teammates find the same academic success. Empathy for others is something the coaches think will take her a long way after she graduates.

“She’s one of the most selfless, giving people on our team,” Assitant Coach Emily Kohan said. “I think that in its self will lead her to have a very fulfilling life; she cares about others.”

As one of the leaders of the Rams, Nicholson has dedicated herself to success for her teammates, even if it means sacrificing some of her personal time.

CSU freshman Olivia Nicholson with the Northern Colorado Herpetological Society shows off an Indian Rock Python named Smiles during the Rally for Our Rights in Fort Collins Jan. 22, 2017. (Davis Bonner | Collegian)

However, when she finds personal time, Nicholson has made a life for reptiles. A fondness which stems from work in a reptile house.

Whether it is holding snakes while their cages are cleaned, or taking care of her friend’s pet amphibians, Nicholson has put her major to practical use outside of the classroom.

As one of the Rams making a difference off the court, Nicholson is set up to have a successful life; one that may just involve some irregular coworkers.

Collegian Sports Director Luke Zahlmann can be reached at or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.