Oct. 28, 2008
By Larry Watts
By the end of the 2008 women's volleyball season, Nicole Fawcett may finally hold the answer to that hackneyed old question -- Do blondes really have more fun?
As a natural blonde, life was pretty good for this 6-foot-4 outside hitter from Zanesfield, Ohio. Her Penn State resume included three All-America selections (two first team, one second team), three unanimous first team All-Big Ten honors, national freshman of the year and unanimous freshman of the year in the Big Ten. She was also named to 11 all-tournament teams, which included three most valuable player awards.
Oh, and there's that national championship trophy resting at Penn State after last year's amazing 34-2 run.
Through her first three seasons at Penn State, Fawcett and the Nittany Lions have compiled a 97-8 record and have extended the school's Big Ten title streak to five. But when Fawcett met with some of her teammates last June, she was convinced it was time for a change.
"We were talking about it (going from blonde to brunette) and they thought it would make my (blue) eyes brighter," she says with a laugh. "I just wanted to try it, but I have to watch my roots. I may go back to blonde; I may not.
"I've heard too many blonde jokes to count, that's for sure, but trust me, there are some pretty good brunette ones out there, too."
Whether she's a blonde bomber or a brunette bruiser, there's no arguing with Fawcett's or the Nittany Lions' success. They have streaked out to a 22-0 start to the 2008, extending their unbeaten run to 48 matches, and are currently ranked No. 1 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
For her part, Fawcett leads the Nittany Lions in kills (252), service aces (26) and is fourth in both blocks (48) and digs (126). She currently stands third on the Nittany Lions' career ladder in kills (1,764) and attacks (3,723).
Already this season, Fawcett has been named to three all-tournament teams and was named the MVP in two of those events. She recently received her eighth Big Ten player of the week honor.
Fawcett has developed her all-around game into one of the best in the nation. She rarely leaves the back row, unless the match is well in hand, like last Saturday at Northwestern when veteran Nittany Lions coach Russ Rose drew a few laughs from the crowd when he called on his smallest player, 5-1 Cathy Quilico, to replace Fawcett.
"Coach Rose thinks he's a funny man," said Fawcett with a big smile. "He is sometimes."
"Nicole simply hit the game running when she came to us as a freshman," Rose says. "She's been a great addition to the program from the day she arrived.
"Her back row skills, both hitting and ball-handling, weren't great when she came in as a freshman, but she has really spent a lot of time working on them. She recognizes if she can be good in the back row, it helps the team and helps her as well. It allows us to sub in other areas when our back row kids are so strong."
"It's a challenge, but it's something I have put a lot of work into," Fawcett says about playing in the back row. "I wanted to stay in (the full rotation) because I knew if I wanted to become a good volleyball player I had to step up my level back there. There's still a lot of things I have to work on, but I am better than I was previously, and it does help my future."
Volleyball has been a family affair for the Fawcetts. Her mother, Kim, played at Wright State University and her father, Bob, played some club ball and was also Nicole's coach at Benjamin Logan High School.
According to her father, Nicole got hooked on volleyball while tagging along to his practices at a very young age. "I couldn't keep her out of the gym, so I started putting her in with the rest of the team when they did three-step approaches. It finally got to the point I couldn't hold my hand any higher when she jumped."
But Bob did find a way to get her out of the gym when she joined his team as a freshman. "I threw her out of two practices for back-talking her mother," he says with a laugh. "That sent a message to everyone, not only was I not going to show favoritism, but I wouldn't put up with any negative attitude. You can only worry about things you can control and you can control your attitude."
"I'm bull-headed and he's way too bull-headed," Nicole said about her quick exits. "He told me to hit the shower during the middle of a scrimmage. The next thing you know, I'm in the bathroom and my mother is pounding the door telling me to get back out there. I told her "I just got kicked out! How crazy do you think I am to go back out there? Yep, good times."
According to Bob, the height genes came from Kim's side of the family. Kim's father is 6-6 and seven of her eight brothers range from 6-4 to 6-8.
"But they can't jump worth a darn," Bob quickly adds. "The jumping ability came from my side."
"I don't like to be tested on a vertical," says Nicole, who estimates she was measured at 10-7. "I think you jump higher when you don't have to think about it. If I hit above the block, I'm a happy person."
According to Fawcett, the march to the national title last year was a "crazy time." The Nittany Lions took out Stanford in five sets, avenging a five-set loss to the same Cardinal crew earlier in the year.
"We just kept thinking no way and the next thing you know we're in the Final Four," she says. "Coach Rose just told us to enjoy the moment. We didn't feel any pressure, we just had a lot of fun with it."
In building the 22-0 start to this season, Fawcett says her team doesn't feel like it has a target on its back. "It's obviously there, but I really can't tell you who we are playing the following week. You see so many upsets if you look ahead and we don't want that. We just want to relish the moment we're in and play for each other. When you see your team clicking, it just makes you love volleyball that much more.
"As a senior, I just have to play my game. I don't want to spread myself out, but I do want people to trust me and know I am ready to help them out."
As far as Fawcett's future goes in the sport, Rose says he has already heard from several professional scouts and agents regarding her and middle hitter Christa Harmotto.
"She (Fawcett) can pretty much decide what she wants to do, she'll have a lot of opportunities," the Penn State coach says. "But we say there will be no communication until after the season is over."
"I'm not too worried about it (the future), nor am I trying to rush it," says Fawcett, a human development and family studies major. "I am just trying to live in the moment because this year is going by so fast. I would eventually like to get into coaching."
So Nicole, there's still that burning question. Do blondes really have more fun?
"Blondes only have more fun when I'm a blonde, but if I'm a brunette, then we have more fun," she says.