Temple Owls’ walk on earns full scholarship

Nikki Shimao is the only player to earn a full scholarship on the Temple University volleyball team this season, and her constant work ethic in the gym proves she deserves it.

Nikki Shimao, freshman defensive specialist/setter, looks for the ball during an Owls’ game against the University of Houston at McGonigle Hall on Oct. 3. | NICK DAVIS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

When freshman defensive specialist/setter Nikki Shimao steps foot into a match, she leaves everything she has out onto the court no matter what.

Shimao is in her second season with Temple University volleyball, and is the only player on the team to earn a full scholarship for the 2021-22 season. 

With 12 scholarships available to players on the volleyball team, Shimao was awarded a full scholarship in the beginning of the school year and it’ll be in place until the end of the spring semester, said head coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam. 

“Last season, we were actually recruiting a transfer to become a part of our roster,” Ganesharatnam added. “We decided not to pursue her and then, because of that, that scholarship remained open.”

Shimao’s commitment towards improving was to gain more knowledge and perform better, but when the full scholarship came along, it was not only a perk for her but also for her family, she said. 

“It kind of caught me off guard, honestly I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Shimao said. “I think I’ve always wanted that, especially for my parents and for my family. So when they told me, I just broke down in tears, because it was always something that meant a lot to me and I wanted to do for them.” 

The scholarship took some pressure off paying her tuition for Shimao and her family, she said. 

The Owls offered Shimao the scholarship based on her hard work she put in during workouts outside of practice and her dedication to improve in the gym, Ganesharatnam added. 

Shimao was a walk-on for the Owls last season, and when assistant coach Ren Cefra noticed her touch to set the ball, Cefra decided to reach out to Shimao’s ‘Iolani School coach, since he has recruited players from there in the past, Cefra said.  

“We were looking for somebody who was a [defensive specialist] that also could set,” Cefra added. “[Shimao] being from Hawaii, I called some of my friends, and asked for some recommendations.”

During her first year with the Owls, Shimao pushed herself everyday in practice. On top of training on her own, Shimao would come in early to practice at McGonigle Hall and stay late to get more reps in with the coaching staff, she said.

“She is somebody who really competes, and puts full effort in every practice session,” Ganesharatnam said. “She’s like a sponge, she wants to soak in the information we provide to her. She tries to do what is in the best interest of the team.”

So far during this season, Shimao has 92 assists, the second highest on the team, and has helped the Owls by serving up 1 kill and 90 digs. Overall during her time at Temple, Shimao has provided a total of 98 assists and 96 digs.  

Shimao began her volleyball career in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she made quite the impression on her high school coach, by carrying ‘Iolani School to a pair of state titles, Cefra said.

After tearing her ACL her junior year of high school and missing six months of competition, Shimao never anticipated earning a spot on Temple’s team, she said.

Shimao’s ability to play aggressively is a key element for the Owls as she is willing to dive for any ball to help the team to victory, Ganesharatnam said.  

Shimao has shown tremendous growth and dedication since she began playing for the Owls and her progress only continues to grow, which ultimately made offering her the scholarship that much easier, Ganesharatnam added. 

“I think these opportunities she’s receiving are a direct result of the hard work she’s put in so far,” Ganesharatnam added. “Hopefully that will also give her some more confidence and a high performance, which I think will be very helpful for her.”

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