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Nicole Salantay: Rising Junior Ready to Lead On and Off the Court

By Wendell Maxey, King Sports Information and Social Media Liaison 

Nicole Salantay is right at home playing volleyball on sand and grass courts this summer across Connecticut. 

It’s hard work and long hours of practice and matches, but the rising Junior is up for the challenge and has shown a fierce tenacity for capturing titles. Competing in a recent two-on-two outdoor tournament presented by Southern CT Volleyball, Nicole won the championship in the co-ed bracket and plans to take part in more outdoor tournaments in August. Yet it’s the Upper School Gym at King School where Nicole is eager to return and get back to work with Coach Tran and the rest of the Vikings. 

“Playing two-on-two forces you to become more mentally tough because it is easier to pick on the ‘weakest link’ in order to score points. It's important to move on and push through your mistakes which is an important lesson that carries into indoor,” Nicole said, while looking ahead to the upcoming 2020 school year at King. 

“I am focusing on finding ways to get the team together and still making the best out of the season. It is very important to keep getting mentally and physically stronger during the season and I am very excited to see where the program will expand to this Fall.”

In between her weekly training schedule and preparing for outdoor volleyball tournaments, Nicole took time to share her thoughts on returning to campus to start the 2020-21 school year, helping Vikings Volleyball earn their fifth straight NEPSAC championship last year, competing with the CT Stars, her advice on mastering time management as a student-athlete, and excelling as a leader on any court she plays on…

Before we catch-up on some Volleyball, can you share how your Summer has gone and how you have been keeping yourself busy? 

During the summer, I have been taking ACT courses in order to prepare for the test that I will hopefully be taking in the Fall. I have also been trying to attend college camps and stay in touch with college coaches during these uncertain times. I was supposed to attend a lot of college camps this summer but unfortunately COVID-19 took away those opportunities. I have been invited to a few camps although I have not been able to make them. I enjoy college camps because I am able to connect with the coaches and see if I enjoy their personalities and coaching style. It is also a great experience to talk to current and past players to see what playing at a higher level entails. 

What is your approach and routine with training and workouts? Anything you are focusing on improving during the workouts over the Summer? 

For my training over the course of the summer, I have been playing in both outdoor beach and grass tournaments. I practice 4 times a week and I usually have 2 tournaments over the weekend. I am focusing on improving my vertical jump and overall strength with my workouts by doing a lot of plyometric training like box jumps and jump rope. Consistency in these types of exercises is very important. 

Last Volleyball season at King was another storybook finish for the team who captured their fifth straight NEPSAC Championship by sweeping Kingswood-Oxford. What did you learn the most from that experience and taking part in that championship season?

It is a great privilege to be able to make it to the championships with King for a second season in a row now. King volleyball has a very well known reputation and growing as a player in that environment has taught me that winning a championship comes with a lot of hard work, endless hours in the gym, and patience. The team and I had to put in a lot of hard work in order to be able to finish first in our league and I am very proud of us and our accomplishments. Coach Tran has pushed me to be better by providing consistent constructive feedback on my fundamental skills. He placed a lot of responsibilities on me this year which helped me develop my leadership skills and become an overall better player. 

Personally for you, last Volleyball season was also memorable as you were named to the FAA All-League Second Team, All-New England, and also received the NEPSAC Class B Player of the Year Award? What did it mean to you to be recognized in this way in the FAA and NEPSAC?

I was very thankful to the league for granting me with those awards last Fall. I worked very hard all season, on and off the court, to become a better player and leader to the team. It is an honor to be able to represent King School in this way and I hope to continue to do so next season as a captain. I also want to thank Coach Tran for being a huge part of the player that I am today. During last season, he pushed me past my limits which I believe opened the door to receiving these awards. He relied on me a great deal last season and I am very thankful to be coached by him. I can’t wait to continue to work with Coach Tran and the program for two more years and see my full potential reached. 

Balancing both academics and athletics can at times be a challenge for a student-athlete. For someone like yourself who has earned Academic All-American honors by the AAU Volleyball National Executive Committee in the past, what is the key to achieving success in both the classroom and on the court? 

A very important skill that helps me balance academics and sports is having good time management. You need to always take advantage of your free time, especially during the season, and focus on completing assignments. Academics have always been very important to me and they always come first. With that being said, if you are able to have a set schedule and steady routine you can always make time for both sports and your school work. As underclassmen, it is very easy to get distracted during study halls and other free time during the school day. It is important to take advantage of this time and get a lot of work completed so that you can have the ability to attend practice and then study or finish up assignments at night. Being a student athlete comes with a lot of late nights and early mornings, but the love of the game for me makes it all worth it. 

One of the last indoor tournaments you competed in prior to the Coronavirus pandemic was back in early March at the Mizuno Boston Volleyball fest as a member of the CT Stars program. How have you grown as a player through your work with CT Stars and how has the program helped make you a better all-around player? 

CT Stars is an amazing organization that cares about your development as a player and a person on and off the court. Personally, CT Stars has cultivated an environment that allows me to grow as a leader and teaches me how to reach my full potential as a player. The coaching staff cares about each individual player and the team you meet in the early winter becomes your family by the end of the spring. 

You’ve switched your focus and energy to now playing in outdoor tournaments and recently won 1st place in the Reverse Co-Ed A bracket playing alongside Ryhs Robinchaud (Joel Barlow High School, Redding CT.) at the two-on-two outdoor volleyball tournament presented by Southern CT Volleyball...congrats! How does playing two-on-two prepare you physically and mentally for playing six-on-six and indoors? 

Due to the current COVID situation, I have been playing mostly outdoor volleyball over the last few months. Outdoor is very different from indoor because of the different variables such as the sun, wind, and different techniques. Although it is more challenging to play outdoor volleyball, it allows for better ball control and it allows you to see volleyball from a different perspective. Playing two on two forces you to become more mentally tough because it is easier to pick on the “weakest link” in order to score points. It's important to move on and push through your mistakes which is an important lesson that carries into indoor. 

Do you plan to compete in any other upcoming outdoor tournaments this summer? 

I usually play in two tournaments each weekend, one beach and one grass, although it does vary. I enjoy playing outdoors because it's challenging and pushes me to become better. 

When you think about your upcoming Junior year at King and getting back on the court with Coach Tran and the rest of the girls for the 2020 season, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? 

Last month, the FAA announced that our Fall season will be cancelled. Although this is upsetting news, as a junior captain I am focusing on finding ways to get the team together and still making the best out of the season. It is very important to keep getting mentally and physically stronger during the season and I am very excited to see where the program will expand to this Fall. Coach Tran is a great coach who continues to push all of us to our limits in order for us to reach our full potential. He continues to run an excellent program each year and I am excited to be a part of his team once again. I look forward to seeing where Coach Tran will lead the program this season.

Along with Nicole Salantay, King Volleyball returns fellow captains, senior Sophie Pigott and Junior Nora Shattan (who captured a two-on-two championship of her own this summer at The Dig grass tournament in Simsbury, CT), to lead the program for Coach Tran.