Terni has taken the long road back

Nicole Terni (11) reaches up to keep the ball in play during Mitchell College's 3-0 volleyball win over Curry on Monday night. The former Montville great has bounced back from two knee surgeries and is leading the Mariners this fall.
Nicole Terni (11) reaches up to keep the ball in play during Mitchell College's 3-0 volleyball win over Curry on Monday night. The former Montville great has bounced back from two knee surgeries and is leading the Mariners this fall. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

New London - The setter for the Mitchell College volleyball team never came off the floor Monday night despite playing with a stress fracture in her left foot, leading the Mariners to a 3-0 victory.

About what you would expect from Nicole Terni, right?

Terni, a 2005 Montville High School graduate, tore her ACL twice in high school before coming back to hit .486 with 21 RBI and 23 runs scored her senior year for the Indians softball team. She made just one error at shortstop and struck out twice, earning first team All-Eastern Connecticut Conference honors and being selected to The Day's All-Area team for the second time.

"I miss it a lot," Terni, now 25, said of softball. "It's where my heart is. It's where my family's heart is."

Terni was a three-sport athlete at Montville, also playing basketball and picking up a new sport in volleyball.

Her dream was a Division I softball scholarship. She almost had one. UConn recruited her from the time she was a freshman in high school, yet became disinterested, she said, when she suffered her second serious knee injury.

Terni never played softball again.

"I'm pretty sure I could (still hit)," she said. "I'd have to spend time in the batting cages. No stealing second base."

Instead, it's volleyball that remains her link to the athlete she once was. She attended Mitchell in the fall of 2005 and played volleyball then, also intending to play softball, but left school before softball season. She returned to Mitchell last year and resumed playing volleyball for coach Niko Paul, who maintained contact with her.

On Monday, Terni finished with 32 assists in a 25-14, 30-28, 25-19 win over Curry College, adding 10 digs, four aces and four kills.

With the score tied 24-24 in the second game, Terni hustled back to track down a ball that caromed off the rafters and put it back in play. In the first game she served for seven straight points, putting away the seventh with a kill that gave Mitchell an 18-8 lead.

The smile rarely, if ever, left Terni's face.

"Absolutely, it's a blast," Terni said after the match. "I appreciate it a lot more.

"Coming from high school, I was not mature enough. I had a lot of freedom at home, but here I had a lot of freedom, like not having to get up and go to class if you didn't want to. Now I have a completely different approach to school. I'm a better student in college. I'm the kid that sits in the front of the class and asks all the questions."

After leaving Mitchell the first time, Terni attended hairdressing school. She works at Medusa Hair Salon in Norwich.

She is currently pursuing a career in nursing, on track to receive an associate's degree in pre-allied health from Mitchell in December.

Nicole, the youngest of four Terni shortstops, following brothers Chip, Chas and Jeremy at Montville, isn't big on paying attention to her statistics. She said her family's focus is now on her nieces and nephews - Chip and Chas each have one son and one daughter - and cheering at their sporting events.

Yet the 5-foot-2 Terni has managed to impress Mitchell's first-year associate coach Brian Way, who has served as the head coach of Stanford University's women's club volleyball team and as an evaluator and coach at USA Volleyball High Performance clinics.

"I didn't know what to expect, but she does a real good job at leading. She knows just when to shake 'em up a little bit and sometimes when to say, 'Hey, it's all right,'" Way said. "... And she's still really quick and she knows how to handle this game."

"I definitely had to work at it," said Terni of her comeback at Mitchell, which competes at the Division III level. "When you go from three sports a year, all year round, to nothing, there's nothing to keep your body in shape. I can definitely tell I'm getting older. Things tend to fall apart a little quicker."

Yet there seems to be something right about a Terni and competition. Parents Vin and Betty back in the stands. And perfect ball after perfect ball from the setter.

Like you would expect anything else.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Nicole Terni listens to assistant coach Brian Way during a timeout in Mitchell's 3-0 volleyball victory over Curry on Monday night. Terni, a former Montville High School star, has battled back from a pair of serious knee injuries and is enjoying her time on the court with the Mariners.
Nicole Terni listens to assistant coach Brian Way during a timeout in Mitchell's 3-0 volleyball victory over Curry on Monday night. Terni, a former Montville High School star, has battled back from a pair of serious knee injuries and is enjoying her time on the court with the Mariners. Tim Martin/ The Day Buy Photo
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