Brooke (Marino) Nicholson ’12, MCAA ’17 was relatively short to play volleyball at 5’10”, but was able to come in under the radar, rack up a number of personal awards and help her team win its first national championship. She was named NAIA All-American three times, NAIA all-tournament player once, GSAC player of the year twice, and NAIA player of the year once, marking the high point of her college career.
Her performance around the perimeter propelled the team to an explosive 2011 season under then coach Dan Fisher.
“Our success was because of his leadership, through the coaches he hired, the way he spoke to us as professional athletes, about God and about being good women,” Nicholson says. “Our team was so successful compared to previous years. He created the right culture and atmosphere.”
The Eagles lost in their first-ever finals appearance, but Nicholson received a number of awards. “I would have given up all my individual awards to get the national title,” she says.
Then, in her senior year, everything came together and the Eagles headed to the championship game again — but in practice two weeks before, Nicholson seriously dislocated her ankle and was unable to walk, let alone play.
“Coaches from all over the country were emailing me condolences,” she says. “But that accident ended up being the coolest thing that ever happened to me. I went from being a person who identified herself with a sport, to being more humble and selfless. I said, ‘What can I do for my teammates to get this team to win a national title without the system we’ve been running?’ The injury allowed us to change things and play more for each other. It allowed us to be even better.”
Nicholson served as assistant coach for the team at the national tournament, and remembers “praying in a hotel room with my big camouflage cast on, ‘Please guide the girls.’ I supported the team in ways I hadn’t before. It was very special.”
The team won the national title, posting the best season in Eagles women’s volleyball history. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Nicholson assisted the women’s volleyball team and enrolled in Concordia’s MCAA program.
“That was my favorite time as a student at Concordia,” she says. “The program matched my passion to a T.”
When she received the call informing her that she was being inducted into the Concordia Irvine Hall of Fame for women’s volleyball, Nicholson, who describes herself as “not a crier,” got choked-up.
“I was so overwhelmed with joy that I started crying,” she says. “I called my husband and parents and said, ‘You’re not going to believe what I just found out.’ It was really fun to share that excitement with my parents, who were the sole reason I was there and playing volleyball at that level.”
That emotion continued at the Hall of Fame ceremonies where Nicholson’s planned remarks went out the window.
“I had an idea what to say and who I would thank,” she says of the event. “Then I heard beautiful stories from the other inductees, and they got me emotional about their journeys. I didn’t get to express everything I wanted to say because it was very emotional, but I was very proud.”
Today, Nicholson is a middle school PE and health teacher at the school she attended as a middle-schooler. She also runs the varsity volleyball program at Mission Viejo High School and coaches the women’s team. She was married last year and aims to be an athletic director. She and former teammates from the 2011 championship team recently reunited with their families.
“I am having so much fun,” Nicholson says. “I love teaching middle school kids and coaching high school athletes.”