Swinney, who helped lead Carroll County to the Region IV volleyball championship in 2005, was in the midst of her sophomore season at Surry Community College (N.C.) last year when Ziemba unexpectedly discovered Swinney, who went on to become Surry’s Team MVP each of the last two years.
“I was recruiting at Surry Community College and I had actually gone to watch another player on the team Surry was playing,” Ziemba said. “And when I saw Nicole play, I said, ‘Wow, we have to get her to Salem.’ She did everything for Surry. She was their best server, best passer, best hitter...she did it all. I knew if we could get her at Salem, she could take over a spot, and she has.”
Last year, Salem College struggled to a 2-21 record. Ziemba admits that made it hard to find quality players, which was a must as the program was transitioning from club status to the NCAA Division III ranks this season.
“We finished 2-21 last year, which wasn’t impressive at all, so we were lucky to get girls like Nicole with a lot of experience,” Ziemba said. “We are 8-17 this year, which doesn’t sound great, but compared to where we were, it is phenomenal.”
Swinney transferred into Salem last spring. Though she has played middle blocker most of her volleyball career, Swinney is now manning the right-side hitter spot for the Spirits. Ziemba said it has been a move that has worked well for the team.
“We were very lucky to get her. She is a great all-around player and she gives us a big boost,” Ziemba said. “She is a very intelligent player, she sees the court and she knows players’ tendencies. She is probably one of our most experienced players in years when it comes to our team. And she can serve the lights out of the ball, so we’re happy we got her.”
It seems to be a perfect marriage as Salem has been a perfect fit for Swinney. Already majoring in art history, Swinney said the liberal arts college offers a great art program.
“It is a very highly accredited school. I was looking at Salem and Greensboro, but I wouldn’t have played volleyball there, so it was icing on top of the cake,” Swinney said.
Swinney credits her time with Carroll County’s ultra successful volleyball program for helping her make the transition to the college level. At Surry Community College, she was part of a rebuilding effort that included just one returning player.
“It was kind of a scrap team and we had to reconstruct our entire team. Coming from a program like Carroll County helped a lot with leadership skills,” Swinney said. “We didn’t have a winning season, but we did better than what was expected. And we’ve done really well at Salem just for the simple fact that we have already broken several team records.”
A junior, Swinney has adjusted well to the quicker pace of the Division III college circuit despite playing with a knee injury that necessitated her move to right side hitter. Regardless, Ziemba has been excited by the role Swinney has filled in the Spirits’ lineup.
“She is starting the majority of the time for us at that opposite hitter spot. The one thing I can say about Nicole, with volleyball, everybody thinks you have to be a certain height or a certain type of athlete to be successful. But she makes it possible that really you just need to smart,” Ziemba said. “She can make a play out of the worst set and make something happen when nothing is going right for her sometimes. I told her I am not expecting her to do everything for us, but we have a specific role on the right side to come in and block and hit and make good decisions. She has done that extremely well.”