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UHIGH VS PONTIAC VBALL-6
University High's Valerie Nichol, left, attacks the ball at the net while Pontiac's Sydney Benning, center, and Loni Mackinson, right, go up to block during Friday night's (September 11, 2008) game at University High School in Normal. (Pantagraph/B Mosher)

NORMAL - With two seasons of high school volleyball yet to play, Val Nichol may appear to have been hasty in committing to play for Purdue University in the fall of 2011.

The 6-foot University High School junior-to-be, who can play outside hitter and setter, doesn't see it that way after visiting 12 universities.

"I took my first visit over a year-and-a-half ago," Nichol said. "I have been to so many places thanks to my parents (John and Donna) taking time off to take me to these places.

"I was just ready (to commit). I've been to all the places I'd ever want to go. I just knew Purdue was the perfect place for me."

Besides Purdue, Nichol visited Illinois State, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Saint Louis and Ohio.

Other schools expressing interest were Stanford, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"I was looking for the best education with the best volleyball program that was a decent distance (i.e. not too far away) from home," Nichol said.

Purdue went 26-9 overall last season and placed fourth in the Big Ten Conference at 13-7 for sixth-year Coach Dave Shondell, who can't comment on Nichol until she signs a national letter of intent in November of 2010.

Nichol was a second-team all-Corn Belt Conference selection as a sophomore when she averaged 2.8 kills and 2.4 service points per game for the 30-6 Pioneers.

"In a game situation, she can hit over a lot of blocks when she is on," said U High coach Cathy Sanders, who could tell early last season that Nichol was a major college prospect.

"The way she went about (choosing a college) was probably one of the most sensible and thoughtful decisions. She knew exactly what she was looking for."

Nichol, who earned Pantagraph All-Area honorable mention, was named to the Junior Volleyball Direct Association All-Tournament team this summer. She has played five years for the Illini Elite Volleyball Club.

"She is probably one of the most athletic kids to come through this program in a long time," said Illini Elite director Andy Erins. "She jumps extremely well."

Nichol can jump and touch 10 feet, 2 inches high. Erins expects she will rank among the top five to come out of Bloomington-Normal before she graduates from college.

"Aside from (Olympian) Ogonna Nnamani, she might be one of the most athletic players this area has produced," he said.

Nichol is primarily a hitter for U High and her club team because "they need her to be an offensive option all the time," according to Erins.

"After talking to Coach Shondell, I might come in as an outside hitter, but end my career as a setter," Nichol said. "I really like doing both.

"I kind of aspire to play volleyball (with the national team) after college. I could be more successful as a setter after college."

Nichol, who plans to major in business with an eye toward management, credits Erins for helping her through the recruiting process.

"I wouldn't be where I am right now without his help," she said.

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