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From the Beach to the Hardwood

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Nicole Otero’s volleyball accolades are so long that they fall off the page of her University at Albany bio.

Now a junior, the Puerto Rico native has been a sensation for UAlbany since her freshman year in 2015, winning America East defensive specialist of the year in her first season. She was also voted to second team all-conference for her outstanding performance at the libero position.

To no one’s surprise, she was again voted second team all-conference in 2016 and won America East defensive specialist of the week on four separate occasions.

Recently, her resume got a little longer, as she picked up her 5th consecutive America East defensive specialist of the week honor. After setting the bar exceptionally high as a freshman, the athletic 5’7” junior is still finding new ways to up her game.

“As a Freshman, I wasn’t a great reader. I was fast, but now I’m a better reader. Since then, I have spent a lot of time getting stronger and studying hitters more,” says Otero.

Head Coach MJ Engstrom touted Otero’s Volleyball IQ as one of her best attributes. She’s enjoyed the luxury of having Otero on her roster for a third season and speaks very highly of her.

“Nicole knows the game better than anyone on the court. She’s our general on defense, and a huge asset to the team,” said Engstrom.

Otero’s story is one of the more intriguing ones in NCAA Volleyball. Growing up in Puerto Rico, getting recruited has its barriers — location being the most challenging of them all. Although she is not a marketing major, the witty Otero promoted her talents in creative ways that caught the eyes of American Universities.

“I first got noticed through my highlights on YouTube, and then coaches came to see me play at my tournaments in the AAU circuit,” Otero recalled.

Luckily for the Great Danes, Otero passed up offers from several schools within Florida to play ball in New York. Her decision to forego endless sunshine and beaches was one that resembles her play on the court — bold. Don’t let her smile and soft personality fool you. The junior libero is tougher than nails.

“I love the feeling of taking away a kill from someone else. The same feeling they get when they get a kill, I get from stopping it,” said Otero.

Playing libero at the Division I level seems terrifying for the average person. Hitters spike the ball at blurring speeds while liberos like Otero have to sacrifice their bodies to not only prevent the ball from hitting the hardwood, but also to create opportunities for their offenses to score.

For the Puerto Rican Phenom, she makes the task look less like a challenge and more like a walk in the park. At the moment, she is ranked second in the America East with five digs per set.

Otero estimates she hits the floor for a dig “no less than 20 times a game.”

Unlike the beaches in Puerto Rico, the hardwood in the gymnasium is much less forgiving. It would be presumed that Otero ices up the collection of bruises she racks up after games. However, when asked about icing, she gave a fitting response.

“I don’t ice. I probably should,” says Otero with a laugh. “I don’t know how the rest of the girls do it, but I don’t.”

With the season winding down, Otero and the Great Danes are geared up for a long postseason run. Otero would love to pass up any personal accomplishments for her team to win in the postseason.

“My ultimate goal is winning the America East Tournament, and making it to the NCAA Tournament,” concludes Otero.

Suffice to say, a championship would be Otero’s proudest achievement on her hefty list of accomplishments.

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