Senior defensive specialist Nicole Dalton doesn’t let volleyball define her.
As a freshman in 2012, she tore her left hip labral, forcing her to have surgery at the end of the season. Dalton went through a second surgery in 2013, and after playing two healthy seasons, Dalton had surgery on her right hip again in March 2015.
Plagued with injuries over the years, Dalton has found other ways to make an impact off the court.
As a physical culture and sports major, she volunteers to help kids with disabilities compete in sporting events. She has accumulated over 100 hours of volunteer work, including many with Special Olympics Texas.
She said her volunteer work has helped develop a stronger passion for competing on the court.
“The joy that they have whether they get first in a race or dead last, it’s just enjoyable,” Dalton said, “I’m drawn to that and their love of being able to compete even when they may not fully be able to. It sets things in perspective for me to never take anything for granted.”
Dalton has also looked to her Catholic faith to cope with her injuries. She works with the Fellowship of Catholic University Students to assist in Bible studies with members of the volleyball team and other athletes. She said it was important for her to establish an identity off the court while sidelined with injuries, even showing an interest in ministry work after graduation.
“People don’t realize how hard it is for us athletes because a lot of our identity is based on the sport,” senior outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame said. “Nicole has emphasized how important it is [for her] to find her identity through [religion] because that has helped her with her injuries.”
Now, with three surgeries behind her, Dalton is finally in the midst of her fourth season on the court.
“The coaching staff has been amazing with me and giving me another opportunity to play,” Dalton said. “I don’t think if I were anywhere else in the nation they would be as loyal and supportive.”
Dalton brings a lot of experience to the table. She is the only remaining player from the team’s National Championship roster from 2012 and she’s set to enter her third year as captain.
Prieto said Dalton excels in a leadership role. She has watched Dalton since their high school days — both competed on amateur national teams for the United States.
The senior said Dalton’s experience and selflessness — both on and off the court — feed into her natural leadership skills.
“Back on the USA team in high school, she would get up and block and hit as well [as play defense]” Prieto Cerame said. “I look up to her and I love playing next to her.”
Dalton hopes to translate those experiences into a big final season in Austin. And like her mentality away from volleyball, she wants to do whatever it takes to make a difference.
“I just want to help the team in [any] way I can,” Dalton said, “Just leading by example and having a compassionate heart towards the girls on and off the court.”
This story has been updated since it's initial publication. A previous version of this story misstated that Dalton had an internship with Special Olympic Texas.