It took one clench of Candace Nicholson’s fists, hand in hand. She squatted down, and volleyed the ball just before it hit the ground.
She got it to a teammate, and then over the net. UCSB rallied it back, but the Wildcats wound up with the point, their third of the night, on Saturday.
Nicholson doesn’t usually get nervous. She breathed a sigh of relief anyway.
“I knew it was the first one of the game,” Nicholson said. “It would be the first one of the match. There was kind of pressure to get that one dig. It felt weird.”
Her teammates jumped for joy, and her parents cheered from the stands.
Clearly, it wasn’t her first dig.
“It felt good, it was surreal,” Nicholson said. “The dig I got, it didn’t seem real. Hearing my teammates, and I had my parents here, it was all really cool, and it meant a lot.”
It was number 1,298, a UA record.
“It’s, in a sense,” coach Dave Rubio said, “monumental.”
It broke a 23-year-old record for career digs set in 1990 by Terry Lauchner, and after Nicholson — a senior libero — plays in her last match, it might stand for a while.
She’s had 29 digs since then, bumping the total to 1,327.
“I think it speaks to her longevity,” Rubio said.
“She’s started since she was a freshman, and she’s been able to show she has some defensive prowess.
“I think that record is probably going to stand for a while.”
The longevity might be the most impressive part of Nicholson’s record.
The Long Beach, Calif., native came to the UA in 2010 as part of a four-person recruiting class.
Nicholson is the only one left. In her four years at the UA, she’s had 39 different teammates, from Tarryn Luafalemana to Penina Snuka.
With all the constant roster turnover, Rubio is happy to have found at least one constant.
Nicholson’s been the starting libero since her freshman year, and up until late last season, she never had much competition.
“She just showed that she was capable,” Rubio said. “She had the skills, the mental makeup and she was clearly at that time the best player that we had at that position.”
It’s almost three years to the day that Rubio inserted her into the starting lineup against Cal. She was technically just a walk-on then — she became a scholarship player after her sophomore year — but Nicholson was unfazed.
And she has been ever since.
“You’d have to ask her if she has a blood pressure. At all,” Rubio said, smiling. “That’s the nice thing about it, things get pretty heated, tension gets high and she remains calm.”
“I don’t know,” Nicholson added, laughing. “It’s just something I’ve just had, I’m just a mellow person in general. If you see me outside the volleyball court, I’m just calm and easygoing. I think I just bring that on the court, too.
“Usually a lot of girls are very loud and energetic, but I think I’m just that person that’s the mediator for everything, just keep it calm cool and collected. It’s the role I’ve chosen to take on.”
That, and record breaker.
“Yeah,” she said, still smiling. “Now my name will be in the record books.”