By Walter Villa
Sophomore Nia Reed, the 2011 Gatorade Player of the Year in New Jersey and a Penn State recruit, missed eight matches last season after breaking her left wrist.
When the 6-foot-2 middle blocker returned -- just in time for the playoffs -- she wore a piece of foam with tape to protect it. But rival coaches were apparently upset that the star from Immaculate Heart Academy (Washington Township, N.J.) was back on the court so soon.
“They were angry and confused,” Reed said. “I took it as a compliment. Usually when an opposing coach doesn’t want you to play it’s because you are a threat to them.”
She certainly was a threat, leading IHA to a fifth straight state title and a fourth Tournament of Champions victory, leaving little doubt that the Blue Eagles (32-1) were again the best team in Jersey.
Maria Nolan, IHA’s co-coach, said she had to laugh when rival coaches tried to have the referees keep Reed from competing in the playoffs.
“All of a sudden, these coaches from other teams became experts on Nia’s wrist,” Nolan said. “They were so worried about her left hand. They should have worried instead about her right hand -- that’s the one she spikes with.”
Indeed, Reed’s spikes usually hit the floor. She had a .637 kill percentage in the regular season and improved that to .688 in six playoff matches.
Part of Reed’s success can be explained by genetics.
Her late paternal grandmother, Vivian Brown, was a track star who won two gold medals in the 200 meters and the 400-meter relay at the 1963 Pan American Games and competed in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. She also set a world record in the 400-meter relay in 1961, competing with the legendary Wilma Rudolph along with Willye White and Ernestine Pollards.
“She died when I was 2, so I never really got to know her,” Reed said. “But I’ve seen pictures of her in her track outfit.”
Reed’s mother, JoMoree Reed, was also an impressive athlete. The 6-foot forward made second-team All-Big Eight as a senior at Kansas State, averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Reed’s dad, Raymon Reed, ran track at Morehouse and at Bowling Green.
Able to touch an impressive 10-5, it is obvious Reed inherited much of her family’s athleticism.
“She not only jumps high, she seems to hang in the air,” Nolan said. “And she has long arms and long hands.”
Blessed with those physical as well as mental attributes -- she loves math and has a 3.41 grade-point average -- Reed has been inundated by offers from college volleyball powers.
Reed, though, has only now put an end to any conjecture of where she might go to college.
“I committed to Penn State after my freshman year,” she said. “But I’ve kind of kept it a secret until now.”
Reed plans to join a Nittany Lions’ roster that already includes former IHA star Ariel Scott, a 6-4 middle blocker who recently completed her sophomore season at Penn State.
Scott was twice named New Jersey’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Nolan, who has won 21 state titles and 733 matches in her coaching career, struggled to say whether Reed or Scott was the better player at the same stage of development. But she didn’t hide her enthusiasm for Reed’s future.
“Nia is on target,” Nolan said, “to be the best player in New Jersey history.”
Personality-wise, Nolan said, the difference is much more apparent between Reed and Scott.
“Nia is always smiling,” Nolan said. “That’s something you notice about her right away.”
About the only thing that has been able to keep Reed from smiling was the wrist injury, suffered during a collision with her setter.
“I don’t know what exactly happened because I kind of blanked out,” said Reed, who is back at 100 percent and playing for her DIGS 17 Red club team. “I thought it was just a sprain, so I kept playing the whole tournament.
“But it still hurt the next day, so I got it checked out. When I found out it was broken and I would have to sit out, I cried all day and all night.”
Mike DeCastro, the IHA co-coach along with Nolan, is impressed with Reed on many levels.
“The most striking thing about Nia is her natural athleticism,” he said. “The way she moves -- she’s light on her feet. She also has that nice vertical leap and a great reach.
“But that’s just the exterior part of Nia. She has so much poise and character. When those coaches were yelling, trying to keep her from playing in the state playoffs, she was right there and handled herself so well.”
Asked how good Reed can get before her prep career ends in two years, DeCastro laughed.
“Who knows? (Nolan) and I can’t believe what she can do already,” he said. “We’ll watch her in practice and shake our heads.
“She’s already a pretty good hitter. There’s lots of room to grow to develop on the back row and become an all-around player. That’s our hope. It’s going to be exciting for her, for our team and for volleyball fans in New Jersey.”
It should be exciting for everyone -- except, perhaps, for rival coaches.