During her junior year at Bryant High School, Nikki Clay dislocated her shoulder twice, once while playing volleyball for the Lady Hornets as well as when she was playing on the softball team. That was all after she had suffered a knee dislocation during her freshman year in an off-the-field accident.
With considerable determination, she fought through those injuries, worked to improve as an all-around volleyball player and, after a fine senior season, signed on Thursday, April 23, to continue her education and volleyball career at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a player that was so determined to get over injuries like she was her junior year,” stated Lady Hornets volleyball coach Beth Solomon.
“I didn’t even think about signing or anything,” Clay said of her rehab time. “I didn’t think I was that great.”
Nikki, the daughter of Jeff and Debbie Clay, just wanted to play.
“She started off playing just back row then worked hard to play all the way around, at all six positions, and this past year she did,” said Solomon. “She led us in serving percentage by far. She became a strong influence both on and off the court. She became a great role model for all of our younger athletes.”
Clay was good on 94 percent of her 249 serving attempts in 2014. She also had 70 kills, 20 assists and 209 digs for a team that reached the Class 7A State Tournament and nearly upset eventual State runner-up Fayetteville in the first round.
“We weren’t very tall so she played front and back row,” acknowledged Lawrence Jefferson, who served as interim coach last fall while Solomon was on maternity leave.
“She is a really good floor leader,” he added. “She was co-captain of the team last fall with Britney (Sahlmann). She worked hard every day, worked hard in the weight room, a leader in the weight room and a leader on the floor. She always did what I asked, always tried hard. She gave everything she had every day, just a phenomenal young lady.”
Clay said she attended an OBU volleyball game and talked to Lady Tigers head coach Danny Prescott afterwards.
“I invited him to come watch one of my volleyball games at Bryant,” she related. “He came and watched the Greenwood game. We won that game in five sets, I think. Then he asked me to come try out at OBU. So I went in November and tried out for two hours. He just saw potential I guess and made it come true. It’s awesome.”
As it turns out, there was never much doubt about where she wanted to go to school.
“I went and visited Harding and Henderson but I knew I wanted to go to OBU regardless if I was playing volleyball or not,” Clay said. “I’ve always wanted to go to a small school with a Christian atmosphere. I visited and it was like my dream college.”
““I talked to their coach during our season last fall,” Jefferson said. “He said she’s going to be a good passer. She’s going to be a defensive specialist for them. He liked what he saw.
“Ouachita’s getting a good player,” he added. “She’s going to bust her tail every day for them.”
Regarding her academic goals, Clay said, “I’m majoring in secondary education. It’s actually a double major with science. I want to get my coaching license so I can coach.
“I’ve just always wanted to coach,” she continued. “Coach (Julie) Long, she’s the soccer coach and the ninth grade volleyball coach. She just has a certain coaching style that I really look up to and I want to be like that when I coach.”
Clay is serving as a manager for the soccer team this season. In the past, she’s not only played softball and volleyball but also basketball through her freshman year.
“Really, I wanted to play softball up until last year then I got really big into volleyball,” she said. “Me and Allie Anderson hung out a whole lot. She’s my best friend. So we just clicked with volleyball. I just wanted to do that from then on.”
In fact, now, right on into the next level.
“Nikki’s great,” Solomon said. “She has the best attitude, great leadership skills. She’s just a great kid. She’s going to be hard to lose, her smile and her great attitude.”