Women's Volleyball |
May 31, 2011
By Shawn Sell
After completing her All-American career at the University of Cincinnati, Stephanie Niemer took a step most collegiate volleyball players don't get the chance to take when she inked a professional contract to continue her playing career in Puerto Rico. With her first pro season complete, Niemer couldn't be more excited with the results and the possibilities that await her in the future.
In late December of last year, Niemer left the Greater Cincinnati area, a place she has called home throughout her life for the first time, heading to Puerto Rico to play for Indias de Mayaguez, one of the top teams in the Liga de Voleibol Superior Femenino. While there, Niemer helped her team reach a level of success it hadn't seen in several years. After going 14-8 during the regular season, Niemer's team qualified for the playoffs where they advanced past round robin pool play into the league semifinals.
"It was a pretty good season for my team," she recounts. "They hadn't gone to the semifinals in five or six years and we did this season. The owners and fans were happy so all is good."
After winning four of six matches in the pool play round, Niemer's squad went on to the semis, dropping a best-of-seven series to Caguas en Mayaguez. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Niemer excelled as an outside hitter, ranking second on her team with 308 points and first with 32 service aces. Her solid numbers came as a result of hard work.
"Individually, I think I had a pretty good first professional season," she says. "I had a different role than I did at UC. When I got there, I wasn't the go to hitter; I was like the third option. But towards the end of the season, I had worked myself up to be the first or second (option). I was pretty happy with the way I played and I just tried to focus on being the best I could be and took it from there."
The make-up of Niemer's team was unique, as nearly all of her teammates hailed from Puerto Rico. Playing in one of Puerto Rico's leagues proved to be a good first professional step for Niemer as well.
"Every team is allowed so many "reinforcements" and my team had three; me and two Dominican girls," she says. "The rest are from Puerto Rico.
"Puerto Rico is a good transition league for players that are coming straight from college. From there, you can go to Europe and places like that," she continues. "It's kind of weird, because some of the best college players don't make it there (Puerto Rico). It's a different league and a different type of play they go by."
In addition to learning the nuances of a different style of volleyball in Puerto Rico, Niemer also had to acclimate herself to some lifestyle changes as well. Gone were the days of rooming with college teammates, as Niemer admits she was forced to learn a lot about herself during her stay. But not all the changes were tough to adjust to.
"My living situation wasn't ideal, but I learned that I can be an independent person," she says. "I learned a lot about myself with the way my living arrangements were. I lived by myself and I just kind of learned to do things for myself and get things done.
"I was 10 minutes from the beach so whenever we had an off-day I made it a point to drive over to the beach and get some sun time in," she adds. "We had a good amount of off-days so that was good."
With her first professional season behind her, Niemer will now turn her attention to completing her degree in marketing from UC, which she will earn with just one more quarter of schooling. But first, she is getting ready for another big adventure that will take her halfway around the world.
Starting on June 7th, Niemer will join a group of predominately college all-stars that will head to China to compete for two weeks against some top Chinese teams. The trip, organized by Niemer's agent Tim Kelly and his agency Bring It Promotions, will feature two teams and the one Niemer will play on will be coached by a familiar face, UC head coach Reed Sunahara. While Niemer says that it will "cool playing for him again," Sunahara is also looking forward to the chance to coach his former star one more time.
"It's a good opportunity to coach period in a foreign country and to see what other volleyball is like besides in the United States," he says. "On the team I am coaching, we have two good outside hitters in Niemer and (former Illinois standout) Laura DeBruler. With two good outside hitters that will take us a long way and it will be good to have Niemer as one of them."
Following that trip, Niemer will return to UC where she will work out, attend school and await her next professional opportunity, possibly in Puerto Rico again. Either way, Niemer has no regrets about her choice to continue her career in Puerto Rico.
"If I get another offer (from Puerto Rico), I will for sure go for it because it was a great experience and a good way to make a living," she says. "I did take time off from school and I didn't graduate on time, but I have no regrets and I am glad that I did it."