She happens to be one of the best volleyball players in the country.
But did you know that Oregon senior outside hitter Brooke Nuneviller plays the ukulele and piano? Or that she can hold a handstand for a minute? Or that after graduating in three years — three years! — Nuneviller designed her own Interdisciplinary master’s program, combining management and journalism.
She has also created a social-media brand called ProVolleyUSA, designed to help promote professional woman’s volleyball.
And she’s really nice.
As her coach, Matt Ulmer said, “She is all about constant communications. If someone is having a bad day she will get them flowers, she will write cards, bring them coffee. That kind of stuff really matters in a team sport. When your best player is doing that, what more could you ask for as a coach.”
Oregon has featured some heavy hitters in the past. Alaina Bergsma was the 2012 AVCA national player of the year and, along with first team All-American Lauren Plum and five- (yes five!) sport star Liz Brenner, led the Ducks to their only appearance in an NCAA Championship match that same year, when they lost to Texas.
All that being said, Nuneviller may ultimately end up being the best of the best.
She was a Volleyballmag.com second team All-American last year after she led the Ducks with 428 kills (3.96/set) — her closest teammate had 242, was second in aces with 23, and was second on the team with 345 digs (3.19/set).
Then this past summer, Nuneviller was one of only two players (Asjia O’Neal of Texas was the other) with collegiate eligibility to be selected to train with the USA women’s national team.
Pretty good for an undersized — she’s listed at 5-foot-11 — kid from Chandler, Arizona, who was pegged as a college libero. Well, she did have to play libero for Oregon as a freshman and then was one again in 2019 when she played for the USA junior national team at the FIVB U20 World Championships.
And don’t forget the beach. Nuneviller also plays for Oregon’s beach team. Last spring, she decided to play at the last minute. All she did was play on Court 1 and make the Pac-12 all-conference second team.
Indoors, outdoors, which position …
Which brings up the Brooke Nuneviller conundrum.
Which position and which sport?
“She has more options than almost any other player,” Ulmer said. “She could go pro and be a great left side overseas and come back and play pro beach in the summer. She will be an amazing coach when she gets the chance one day.”
Nuneville, 22, obviously has decisions to make.
If she wants to stay with the national team, she will have to be a libero.
Holly McPeak, the three-time Olympian and 2004 bronze medalist, now coaches (Elite Beach Volleyball) and does beach and indoor TV analysis.
“Brooke Nuneviller is an elite athlete indoors and on the beach she is something special as well,” McPeak said. “She covers the sand effortlessly and can get up and bounce balls. I call her the human highlight reel.”
You might not know that before he came to Oregon, Ulmer was a young coach who took Long Beach State to the 2013 national beach title. It was still three years before it became an NCAA team sport.
Ulmer compared Nuneviller to another indoors-outdoors player, who happened to go to Long Beach State, three-time Olympic gold medalist Misty May-Treanor.
“I think Misty is the best ever at making her teammates better. Brooke has Misty qualities even though they play different positions. Brooke is always around the ball, she is everywhere, she knows how to communicate with her teammates, knows how to inspire you. She has many Misty qualities.”
And with it all she wants to consider her future with the national-team program.
“I am assuming there is certainly the possibility that Brooke could spend time with us next year,” USA women’s national-team coach Karch Kiraly said. “And anybody that spends some time with us next year has to be thought of as a possible member of Team USA in Paris 2024.”
That, of course, would be a long shot, with Justine Wong-Orantes, who was the libero on last summer’s USA team that won Tokyo Olympics gold, and new addition Morgan Hentz, one of the best liberos in NCAA history.
Kiraly: “We would like to see her continue to develop her skill set that would impact her at the ‘bro’ position. Getting as bulletproof as possible with her serve reception. Being the captain of the serve receive trio. Guiding and leading the communication as the serve is coming at us, (as well as) the planning before the communication, during (the serve) and the quick debriefing afterwards and the correcting (if necessary), making people as comfortable, calm and poised around her.”
Libero? Not interested
Interestingly, Nuneviller chose Oregon because she did NOT want to be a full-time libero.
She was a first-team Under Armour All-American out of Corona del Sol High School in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler. But she was a club player, coached by her mom, Beth, from a young age. Both Beth and her father, Doug, remain big fans and plan to attend 24 of the Oregon matches this season.
“Both of my parents were the most supportive you could be as an athlete,” Nuneviller said. “Mom was there on the volleyball court, the practices, on the drive home. She would coach me when I did not want to me coached. She taught me how to be selfless, and how to celebrate the challenges of your path because it is (now), and has not always been easy.”
That path began at a very young age.
“Brooke started playing at age 6 on a 6-to-8-year-old team,” Beth Nuneviller said. “I was her coach. I would make the kids hit three times, instead of just once like the other teams. More touches to learn, pass-set-pass. It was an eight-week season. Brooke ended up playing five seasons of 12s.”
Her philosophy as a coach was to play everybody, she said, and this may have contributed to Nuneviller’s success as a leader.
“My parents were so good about not making it about me,” Brooke said. “Taking the glory for myself was never something I have enjoyed doing. I would rather be celebrating with my entire team.”
By the time she was in high school, Nuneviller was being recruited. She settled on Stanford, admittance forthcoming, when John Dunning was the coach. But Dunning retired in 2016 after Stanford won the NCAA title. He was replaced by Kevin Hambly, and he and Nuneviller agreed she was probably not the right fit for him, especially as an outside hitter.
Around that same time, when Nuneviller was a junior in high school, Oregon was promoting Ulmer to head coach. He was saying what Nuneviller wanted to hear.
“I was getting heavily recruited as a libero,” she recalled. “No other top university would have played me as an outside.”
Ulmer: “She committed here when she had pretty much every other option. We had never won a conference championship at Oregon. And she could have gone anywhere where they win championships all the time. But she wanted to make it happen here. She did not take the easy road. It speaks to her character. She is not afraid of the challenge and it turned out this was the right atmosphere for her.”
Even though the idea was for her to play outside, Nuneviller was the Oregon libero as a freshman and was a VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-American.
That summer was when she played libero for the USA at the FIVB U20 Worlds, but when she got back to Eugene she made the move to outside hitter. She was fabulous at times, but battled injuries the entire season, including when she sprained her ankle early but played through it.
It was the spring of 2021 when Nuneviller got everyone’s attention en route to becoming All-Pac-12 and a VolleyballMag.com second-team All-American. She averaged 4.04 kills/set and 3.46 digs, and, in a match at Washington, had 35 kills with one error in 65 attacks and also had 19 digs. After that remarkable performance, she got up early and came on a Zoom with VolleyballMag.com with editor Lee Feinswog former Texas, USC and USA coach Mick Haley.
No wonder Ulmer says, “Brooke is THE most impactful recruit we have ever had. If she committed to us, then we must be doing something right. She’s someone that makes me a better coach.”
Also this summer, she had a virtual “Who’s Who” of USA indoor stars including Tori Dixon, Morgan Hentz, Dana Rettke, Kara Bajema, Anna Hall and her old Duck teammate Ronika Stone.
Each interview had a focal point such as “Media coverage and equity,” or “The unknown of professional volleyball.” Nuneviller emphasized that it is, “very important for ProVolley to spread more awareness of pro volleyball in the U.S. Get these incredible players the incredible recognition they deserve.”
Ready for 2022
Oregon finished 22-9 last season, 13-7 in the Pac-12. They were swept in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas. In that match, Nuneviller had 17 of her team’s 43 kills, an ace, a block and 11 digs.
“The biggest growth for her on court was transforming from one of the best liberos in the country as a freshman into a terminal pin,” Ulmer said. “Before, Brooke was a ball control player that had some shots.
“(This season) I think she will be one of the best terminal attackers in the country. What makes Brooke so dangerous is that she came in as a freshman and could touch 9-9, now it is 10-3. That has really changed her game. Now it is really tough to stop her. She can score out of system with heat, and she has all the shots because she played beach and you have that in the back pocket.”
Also returning is middle Karson Bacon, an All-Pac-12 selection who established an Oregon single-season record with her .413 hitting percentage; right side Gloria Mutiri, who was an All-Pac-12 selection in the spring 2021 season; and libero Georgia Murphy, who averaged a career-best 4.29 digs per set last fall, fourth best in the conference. Nine of the 17 on the Ducks’ roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
There was also a significant addition with the transfer of Washington State setter Hannah Pukis, a two-time All-Pac-12 pick.
“The U of O has never won a Pac-12 championship-ever,” Nuneviller said. “That is what we are trying to accomplish. Every single thing we do in the gym is going towards that goal.”
Opponents might see an even more-improved Nuneviller.
“It made it clear to me training with the women’s national team, the more mature you get as a player, the more tools you have to add to the tool box. They (USA outside hitters) are hitting high hands every ball. They are not going for the glory swings, the seam in the block. Because the higher the level you get to, you don’t get that seam in the block. So, I realized that I needed to increase my physicality, hitting at a higher efficiency, jumping higher, proving myself as an elite attacker, working with my team to achieve these goals.”
The Ducks open their season Saturday at nearby Portland when they play Long Beach State and then Sunday play Portland State.
They play host to UC Davis and Rice before heading to Minnesota for the third weekend, where Oregon plays Minnesota and Penn State. The Ducks conclude pre-conference play at Miami where they face South Carolina and Miami.
Oregon was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 coaches preseason poll behing Washington, Stanford and UCLA and ahead of USC.