By the time Bailey Nixon gets back to live regular-season volleyball action, it will have been two full years since her last serve.
The Utah Valley University volleyball team ended its season a few weeks ago with a loss in the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship match. The 2016 campaign was supposed to be the freshman coming-out party for one of the state’s elite recruits, but Nixon is still waiting.
Her knee injury was so severe that the recovery process cost her not only her senior year at Pleasant Grove High, but now her initial season at UVU. The decision for her to take a red-shirt year was not her first choice, but she knew it was a possibility.
“At first, I really didn’t want to redshirt. I wasn’t really sure about it,” Nixon said. “We just want to make sure that I am 100 percent and fully strong, if not (I’d have) four more years after this year to come back and play.”
UVU head coach Sam Atoa monitored Nixon’s progress during the season, and though she was cleared physically to return, he was looking for some specific things in making the redshirt decision.
“Her vertical and her physical abilities are not quite where we would want it to be,” Atoa said earlier in the fall. “Her presence really helps with what we are trying to work on, however she’s limited in various other parts of the game. Any time there are those physical challenges, there is a mental challenge that can be even greater, especially when they’re trying to make a comeback and return to the court.”
That mental hurdle has provided the greatest challenge to Nixon. The injury happened late in the summer preceding her senior year in high school, at a team camp at UVU.
Landing wrong following a hit, Bailey tore her ACL, MCL, meniscus and ruptured her hamstring. The hospital said she would be out for a year.
“I didn’t want to come back because I was so scared it was going to happen again, but once I got the green light to start playing, then I think everything just went away. It definitely was really hard to overcome that.”
Nixon’s return to volleyball has required a great deal of patience, but her family definitely is right there as a ready support network. When it comes to UVU, there is a bit of Nixon family legacy and her parents are looking forward to seeing her wearing Wolverine green.
Bailey’s parents were star athletes on the same campus back when it was Utah Valley Community College. Her father, Kevin, was an All-American basketball player there before finishing his college career at Brigham Young University, and her mom, Stephanie, played volleyball and basketball at UVCC.
“Some of my greatest memories take me back to those two years at UVCC,” Stephanie said. “My sophomore year we won the conference title and played in the NJCAA national tourney. Our greatest memory of Utah Valley is that is where Kevin and I began our family’s story. It was our starting point.”
Kevin is happy his daughter will follow him to campus. For him, UVCC was the place he found his wife, but he also found so much more.
“After transferring from a bad basketball experience at Northwestern, I found my love for basketball again at Utah Valley,” Kevin said.
Now, her parents are thrilled to see Bailey following in their footsteps and love having her so close to home.
“Having Bailey there now is a dream come true for Steph and me,” Kevin said. “We will get to watch every single home game which is a huge plus. I think she is in the perfect situation. She loves the school. She loves Sam and all the coaches and loves her team. Really, she couldn’t have picked a better situation.”
Now there’s the ongoing work to get back in the game. It’s been a long time since Bailey has been on the court for a match and she’s anxious to get back out there.
“Mine (knee injury) was really bad, but my doctor was really careful with me,” Bailey said. “He wanted me to last four years of college volleyball, so he wanted to take time to make sure everything was really good and strong.”
Just are her parents preceded Bailey to the campus where she will play collegiate volleyball, they are right there with her through the recovery process.
“I learned that Bailey is a lot tougher than I could have imagined she was. I’m sure she had a lot of hard days but she rarely let on that she was struggling.” —Kevin Nixon, Bailey’s father
“We were devastated when we found out the extent of her injury. I knew my 17 year old would be learning some life lessons,” Stephanie said. “As a former athlete I knew one of the greatest lessons she would be learning was patience. We shared that when there is a devastating injury like she had, volleyball doesn’t define her. As much as we enjoy athletics, we saw the bigger picture and assured her that life could go on and she could enjoy other aspects of her life.”
Kevin’s emphasis has been on keeping Bailey positive through the long recovery process, a process he knows well himself as he worked through an ACL injury, too.
“I learned that Bailey is a lot tougher than I could have imagined she was. I’m sure she had a lot of hard days but she rarely let on that she was struggling,” Kevin said. …”I just encouraged her every day that the work she put in to rehab would be worth it someday.”
After a slow start, the 2016 season turned out pretty well for Atoa and the Wolverines, who graduate just three players from this year’s WAC runner-up team. Bailey will be a bonus addition to next year’s team as she returns better for this experience. She believes she has a lot to offer beyond just her skill as a volleyball player.
“I have had a lot of experience winning championships and knowing how to push and fight really hard to win the game,” Bailey said. “I’ve been a leader for as long as I can remember for the high school team and for club, so I think that I can really bring my leadership skills to this team and my experience in fighting to win.”
Kevin and Stephanie have seen the changes around the UVU campus and they are excited to watch Bailey take her place there.
“It seems like every time I step on campus, a new building has gone up,” Kevin said. “It’s been so great to see the success that many of the sports programs are having. Every time we attend a game or event you can just feel the excitement of the UVU community. I’m really honored to be an alum and to be able to a part of something so special.”
Led by junior 1st-team all-WAC middle blocker Madison Dennison, junior 2nd-team all-WAC outside hitter Lexi Thompson and all-freshman player Izzie Hinton, UVU finished the 2016 season with a 15–13 record. The Wolverines won 11 of their last 13 matches to claim second place in the conference with a 10–4 mark. The team reached the championship game of the conference tournament but lost to UT Rio Grande Valley to see its season come to an end.