Niemer takes one final swing

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Stephanie Niemer will go down as one of the greatest volleyball players in UC history. Today, she begins her final chance to driving the program to unprecedented heights as their NCAA tournament begins.


By Will Frasure

Special to


CINCINNATI -- Only moments removed from hearing the placement for her final run at the NCAA tournament, Big East Player of the Year Stephanie Niemer discussed her gut feelings and intuitions on the volleyball court.


"It usually comes out right," she said.

Indeed, ranking in the top five nationally in kills per set (5.08) and points per set (5.91) while leading UC to a regular season Big East title would support her summation.


With how well she performs each point, it isn't crazy to think the senior can feel what's going to happen on the court before it transpires. 


"I'll have feelings that certain things will happen over passes," she said, "and I'll set myself up for something that may happen in order to help our team."


Her foresight can be seen in the locker room before games as she prepares for upcoming matches. It will return today as the Bearcats open the NCAA tournament against Western Kentucky in Champaign, Ill.


One second, Niemer will want to wear a certain hair band. The next, her gut will tell her to wear something else. If it isn't exactly right, Niemer doesn't feel as confident as possible when she takes the court.


The choice to wear a Brazilian headband in Cincinnati's Big East semifinal match against Notre Dame stuck out to the senior. Her "sixth sense," as she called it, told her that the band she received on a team trip to Brazil would benefit her the most against the Irish.


The result? A dominating 3-0 win over the Irish in which Niemer knocked home a team-high 15 kills.


 "I got a good feeling off of (the headband) before the game. Obviously it worked out pretty well," said Niemer, sarcastically while laughing.


But having certain hunches about hair care isn't the only reason for Niemer's success.


Through dedication and some support from home, the senior has developed into one of the country's best players.


Niemer hadn't played outside hitter until the day she arrived in Clifton after finishing her career at St. Henry's in Erlanger, Kentucky. When she first started for the Bearcats, she tried to get by on her pure hitting ability.


"I wasn't necessarily the smartest volleyball player," Niemer said. "I just tried to swing through the block as hard as I could, or just swing as hard as I could anywhere."


With the goal of becoming a smarter and more developed player, Niemer dedicated herself to progress on and off the court. Close friend and teammate Lindsay Upton could see the commitment of Niemer in class and in offseason workouts.


"She's unbelievably dedicated," Upton said. "You don't see her out and about. She's dedicated to volleyball and winning. That's what she's all about."


First came Big East Freshman of the Year after her first season, then a first-team Big East selection her sophomore year. She was honorable mention on the AVCA All-American team. Now, it'd be a travesty if she wasn't a first team All-American after her outstanding play that earned her a record six Big East Player of the Week awards.


Along the way, Niemer's family from across the river supported her and kept her grounded throughout her years at Cincinnati. Upton, also a local product from Mount Notre Dame, said having family so close to home has been a rock in both their lives.


"(My family and I) have gotten closer since I got here," Niemer said. "All of them come to my games most of the time, and someone will always try to be there for away games."


As the team moves on toward the NCAA Tournament, Niemer's humble attitude, gained from her supportive family, has allowed her to take her accolades in stride.


Even after her unprecedented Big East POW run, Niemer pointed toward the recognition the program received rather than basking in her success.


"I didn't try to win the award each week," Niemer said. "I just tried to play the best I could, and if that's what came with it, that's what came with it."


With the team building off their loss to Louisville and moving on the next step of beating Western Kentucky in the first round of the tournament, individual honors are the last thing on the dominant outside hitter's mind.


Her only focus: Propelling the program to its first Sweet 16, the goal of since Day 1.


"That loss against Louisville showed our true colors," Niemer said. "When team's can expose your weaknesses like that, you have to get better. That's what we're focusing on as we move forward."


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