For fifth-year business student and Clan setter Tamara Nipp, volleyball has always been the sport for her.
“I wasn’t really into physical contact sports like basketball or soccer. So volleyball was the perfect sport for me,” Nipp said with a laugh.
Nipp’s love for volleyball started in Grade 5, and continued into her days at Crofton House, where she played for the school. “I played all throughout high school and played with the same people all the time, which was great,” Nipp recalled about her high school volleyball experience.
However, the transition to university level volleyball was a struggle, beginning with the recruitment process. Even though she wasn’t offered an athletic scholarship coming out of high school, it didn’t stop her from pursuing the sport she had put so much time and dedication into. Nipp began writing emails to university coaches when she was in Grade 12, asking them if they needed a setter in her year.
“My parents wanted me to stay in Vancouver, so the decisions were narrowed down for me,” Nipp said. “I emailed [former SFU volleyball coach] Lisa [Sulatycki], and Lisa told me that I would be the fourth setter on the team because there were already two and one new recruit. She offered me a spot on the team, and I came on.”
But this wasn’t the biggest hurdle that Nipp has had to face during her time as an SFU volleyball player. In 2014, Nipp was in a car accident that left her with whiplash and post-concussion syndrome. Because of it, she missed the entire 2014–15 season.
“It was definitely weird for volleyball to be taken out of my life for that year,” Nipp recalled. “All the other business students had volunteering, clubs, or working — things that I didn’t have time to do when I was playing volleyball. For the first time in my life, there was no structure.”
An accident like this could push many people to quit. Despite the difficulty that Nipp had, the support she received from her friends and teammates helped her to ultimately overcome the struggles and eventually return to playing full-time for the 2015–16 season.
“My business friends helped me a great deal,” Nipp said. She recounted how she was able to make friends within her faculty during her time away from volleyball, and eventually became very close to some of them: “They [the business students] are so driven, and they kept saying to me, ‘Well, why wouldn’t you get back to playing volleyball? You’re only taking a year off,’” Nipp said. “They made it much simpler for me to understand than I made it out to be in my head, like yeah, I can totally do this.”
Nipp also received support from her fellow teammates and head coach Gina Schmidt. “I would constantly be at practices, and watching my teammates play made me want to come back [. . .] Gina was also great because she never pressured me into coming back. She understood how I felt.”
It’s this family-like dynamic that Nipp will miss when she graduates from SFU in the spring. As her final season begins, she hopes that the Clan can make the playoffs, making for a nice finish to her university volleyball career.
Currently, SFU sits in second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 5–1 record. She also appreciates each opportunity that she has to play a little more: “Everytime I play, I know that I can’t take it for granted. Even when I’m tired, I don’t care that I’m tired, I just want to play!”
To any students who encounter tough situations in their lives, Nipp encourages them to “find what lights a fire within them.
“I firmly believe that everyone has to have a bad day before you can truly appreciate a good day [. . .] No one can have a bad day every single day, but it will help you to see the good days.” Though Nipp has had her bad days, the good days are just beginning, with many more great ones to come.
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