Three times a week, Carly Nolan’s commitment to the two sports she loves is tested.
On those days the Crystal Lake South sophomore is awake by 6:15 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 10 p.m. That’s when the homework and studying begins.
Those long days aren’t unusual for multisport athletes, but the challenge is a tad more demanding for Nolan, a starter on the Gators’ girls basketball team. During the basketball season, Nolan also plays club volleyball for Sky High on the 16 Black squad. For the past month, Nolan has attended 21⁄2- to 3-hour practices three days each week in addition to any commitments she has to the Gators.
It’s been a balancing act for Nolan, but she embraces the “very hectic and busy” lifestyle. Despite the pressures of playing at an elite level, Nolan wants to play basketball and volleyball through high school. She realizes, however, that some people, particularly college coaches, won’t be as understanding.
“People have been telling me I’ll need to choose, but I’m going to try and prove them wrong,” said Nolan, who also competes in track and field in the spring. “It’s kind of a pride thing. I want to show people that I can play more than one sport and I can excel in more than one sport.”
The support and encouragement of her parents, Mike and Mary, help her through some late nights and tough stretches, and they haven’t forced her to give up or choose just one sport. Neither has Gators coach Kyle McCaughn or coaches at Sky High. Nolan said McCaughn has allowed her to leave some basketball practices early in order to attend her club practices.
“Both my coaches for basketball and volleyball are really good about it, and they are flexible with my schedule so I can work in both sports,” Nolan said. “I thought maybe I wasn’t going to be able to play one or that I had to choose, but they’re really good about it.”
Nolan’s natural athleticism has allowed her to excel on both courts. A Northwest Herald All-Area second-team volleyball player, Nolan led the Gators in kills and posted the second-most digs, and in her first year on varsity, she’s become one of South’s best rebounders. Paired with junior forward Sara Mickow in the paint, Nolan’s height and jumping ability make her a natural shot blocker and gives the Gators a formidable rebounding duo inside.
“She knows how to time things, and reading people’s approaches from volleyball and reading the ball and all those things she has to do in volleyball to get a block, she’s doing in basketball,” McCaughn said. “ … She’s able to do it without fouling. She gets her spacing and her timing, and we’ve kind of just let her use that athleticism.”
Ultimately, Nolan hopes to play volleyball in college, though she switches back and forth as to which sport she likes better.
“A lot of the colleges I’ve been talking to, they really like that I’m playing more than one sport because they say it helps prevent injuries since you’re working different muscles,” Nolan said. “ … I just love playing sports and running around and playing with my friends, so I think it’s all worth it.”
Nolan isn’t the only basketball player in the area or on the Gators that switches from volleyball in the fall or plays multiple sports. Transitioning from one sport to another poses it challenges, but McCaughn believes multisport athletes should be encouraged to stick with it.
“I’m a big proponent of kids being involved in athletics in high school, and if we can continue to have Carly and other athletes play multiple sports, then I’ll do what I can within the bounds of being somewhat equitable in helping them out,” McCaughn said. “Carly has been more than willing to give a little bit on the volleyball side as well as me giving a little on the basketball side.”
The multisport athlete has slowly become a dying breed, a byproduct of an emphasis on college scholarships and the pressure to specialize in one sport. In his 12th year as South’s varsity coach and 19th year overall in the program, McCaughn is saddened by that trend but hopes more follow the path and dedication of Nolan and some of her teammates.
“We’re losing those valuable teaching tools that we can teach outside of the classroom, that we can teach them on a field of play or court that will really transform them as young ladies and just give them those life lessons,” McCaughn said. “I think when we don’t have the opportunities through athletics to teach these lessons, I think we’re missing out. Athletes that are picking and choosing to play only one [sport] are missing out on those opportunities.”