“She’s a kid that when people look at her they think ‘Oh, 6-foot-3, giant middle blocker,’” says Clarke, who coaches the senior varsity girls team at North Delta’s Seaquam Secondary, where the defending provincial champion Seahawks have remained at No. 1 in the B.C. Triple A rankings all season, and come Friday and Saturday play some of the province’s best at the Handsworth Royals Invitational in North Vancouver.
“But I swear from the bottom of my heart that what makes her special is not that she is 6-3 and has great skills,” he continues. “It’s that Nicola is the hardest working player in every practice and the hardest working person in the gym at any tournament we’re at.”
And, Clarke adds with a laugh: “The other teams find her so annoying because she is so loud, so positive. But it’s her work ethic and attitude that makes her truly special.”
A senior with a love for law and geography, Laniuk’s passion for the court has put her on the map as one of Canada’s top high school recruits, and that point was enforced over the summer when she was one of only two B.C. girls to make the junior national team, the other of whom (Richmond-McMath’s Juliana Kaufmanis) is starting her freshman campaign with the five-time, reigning CIS champion UBC Thunderbirds.
“I put every ounce of passion I had for the sport into it,” Laniuk explains, “and it got me to the junior national team. Being a year younger than a lot of the girls, you kind of don’t expect to do as well because you’ve got so much competition. But it was an amazing experience.”
She’s had her fair share of those already, like helping lead her Thunder club team to back-to-back provincial titles, and playing a pivotal role as a Grade 11 last season in the Seahawks’ journey to their first-ever provincial girls championship.
Yet her quest to get better goes beyond school, club and country. As a member of the high-calibre training group at the Volleyball Centre of Excellence, which runs out of the Richmond Olympic Oval, Laniuk spends four hours a week immersed in a blue-chip training environment.
Never mind the fact that she had to schedule classes in her senior year around the sessions, or that she had to find her own way out there. The work ethic of which Clarke speaks manifests itself in the ways of a true self-starter.
“I figured out the bus schedule last year when I started training there,” Laniuk explains of the four-hour commute-train-commute time block she has built into her schedule twice a week. “It’s such an excellent program that it’s worth spending the extra time to get there.”
Now, as a junior national team player, Laniuk can literally call her shot when it comes time to picking a Canadian collegiate program to join next season. Many have called, and she is expecting to decide in late November or early December.
“I feel a really strong connection with UBC, but I haven’t committed anywhere yet,” Laniuk says.
Still, if she chooses to join the Thunderbirds, she admits that the reunion with three of her junior national teammates would be welcomed. Kaufmanis and Ontario right side Dani Brisebois are both UBC freshmen this fall, and Laura McTaggart, a 6-foot-3 left side from Alberta, has already given her commitment to the Birds.
Whomever Laniuk plays for, the betting is she becomes an instant fan favourite.
“Everyone plays volleyball their own way and I love to play with energy because I have such a passion for the sport,” she explains. “I am loud and I am energetic and that keeps everyone happy. People love watching it, and I’m just out there having a good time.”