Volleyball: Nobilio digs for school record

James Carlton

Christie Gardner had only just graduated the year before when then-freshman Kate Nobilio stepped on the court to replace her as Northwestern’s libero in 2006. Nobilio knew succeeding Gardner, the program’s all-time digs leader, would be a tall order, and her initial ambition was simply to execute her responsibilities.

“When I first got here, I was only trying to fill Christie Gardner’s shoes,” Nobilio said. “I just wanted to be one of the top two or three liberos in the Big Ten.”

Now, as a junior, Nobilio is on the cusp of breaking Gardner’s school record of 1,658 career digs. She stands only 101 behind the mark and, at her current rate of just less than 18 digs a match, could reach it by the end of the season.

After notching 16 digs last weekend in the Wildcats (8-17, 2-12 Big Ten) losses to Michigan and Ohio State, Nobilio ran her career total to 1,557. She will look to inch closer to the top spot this weekend against Iowa (13-13, 5-9) and Minnesota (20-6, 10-4).

Sophomore outside hitter Brittani Gray attributes her teammate’s success to her tireless consistency and knack for keeping the emotional team composed in pressure situations.

“Kate’s just so stable,” Gray said. “She’s never up and down. She’s not a head case. She calms us down and helps us work toward being as consistent as she is.”

Junior outside hitter Ariel Baxterbeck said what sets Nobilio apart is the libero’s uncanny ability to know what will happen next on the court.

“She reads hitters really well, which allows her to be in the exact right place at the right time,” Baxterbeck said. “She knows what the other team is going to do even before they do.”

Nobilio, who holds the Cats’ single season record for digs with 603 last year, is one of a trio of talented liberos in her family. Her younger sister, Kelsey, plays the position, and Brittany, her older sister, graduated from Eastern Kentucky last year third all-time in the nation for digs.

Kate said her older sister has been a great influence on her. She also points to her coaches and her hard work as the vehicles that have her speeding toward the NU record.

“At my position, working hard is the only way to be successful,” Nobilio said. “You have to throw your body around and go for every ball.”

Baxterbeck can attest to Nobilio’s game-first, body-second priorities. She said Nobilio has brought the same intensity since freshman year and is admired for her willingness to nose-dive into the hardwood floor.

“She literally never gives up,” Baxterbeck said. “You’ll think the ball is down and you’ve lost the point. But she’ll dive for it and keep it up.”

The outside hitter also said Nobilio has recently stepped into a new leadership role on the team. While she had always led by example, Baxterbeck said, she was now more vocal and had become a “good model to emulate.”

Nobilio has said that statistics are not nearly as important to her as the team’s success. And though she said “breaking the record would be cool,” it would not really change much.

But Gray said Nobilio has underplayed her own importance to the team.

“She is invaluable,” Gray said. “A huge part of our team. To be 100 shy of the all-time record as a junior – that’s insane.”

Though the season has been more disappointing than the Cats had anticipated, Nobilio said the team is trying to salvage the remainder of the season and build for next year.

“Coach (Keylor) Chan always says that people don’t remember the teams that played well early and finished badly,” she said. “They remember the teams that finish strong, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to use this season as a learning experience and hope it feeds into next year.”

And next season, Nobilio will be there to anchor the team.

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