Nicole Shanahan knew what she wanted and she was willing to wait for it.
So as her senior year at Oconomowoc High School wound down and as a number of college volleyball programs expressed interest in her, she held off.
A Big East Conference school offered the 6-foot-1½ middle blocker a full four-year scholarship and another East Coast school offered three years. But neither could offer the fulfillment of a dream.
That could only come from the University of Wisconsin. So when coach Kelly Sheffield offered her an opportunity to join the team as a walk-on, she grabbed it.
“Going to Wisconsin has always been a dream of mine,” Shanahan said. “And volleyball has been a passion of mine, so to put the two together has really been a dream.
“I just love the atmosphere, the environment there and the volleyball program is one of the best in the country. That’s something I want to be a part of and I want to make history with this team.
“I’ve always been told to go with your gut and Madison is always where I’ve wanted to go. I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m going to take it and go with it.”
Scott Blackmon, Shanahan’s coach this year with the Milwaukee Sting volleyball club, said her recruiting process was one of the longest he’s ever witnessed. But he’s confident that she ended up at the right place for her.
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“I think she’s certainly going to be able to contribute and she’s going to push people in practice,” Blackmon said. “She works really hard. She’s got a great work ethic and a great personality about her.
“She knows full well what her opportunities are and what the outlook is early on at Wisconsin. For a kid to turn down scholarships at other places to walk on, I think says a lot about how she feels about Wisconsin.”
Shanahan will provide some immediate depth at middle, where she will join junior Tionna Williams, a third-team All-American, and fellow freshmen Dana Rettke and Danielle Hart.
While Shanahan’s main contributions figure to come in practice rather than matches, Blackmon impressed on her that she will be held to as high of standards as everyone else in the program.
“I’ve spent a good amount of time in the practice gym at Wisconsin,” he said. “I know (the coaches) and I know what they want. I was pretty blunt in telling her what the expectations are and she’s still going to push ahead. To me that says a lot about her character.”
Shanahan, whose sister Megan is a UW student, said she understands her position and is prepared to deal with not seeing much, if any, playing time, at least early on.
“That’s definitely something I had to consider,” said Shanahan, who helped lead Oconomowoc to a combined 64-9 record over the past two seasons, including a WIAA Division 1 state runner-up finish as a junior.
“But I’m an extremely hard worker and I’m determined. I’m just going to work my hardest, put my all out on the court and what happens, happens. I know if I give everything I have there are really no regrets.”