Thump. Thump. Thump.
The thud of a volleyball against the wall of her dad’s garage door was a constant noise at the Thies house in Winside as a small, determined young lady prepared for the day when she would play Div. I college volleyball.
Winside volleyball coach Theresa Watters remembers Nazya Thies being a near-constant presence in the gymnasium, both before and after practice.
“It seemed like she was always in the gym,” she said. “Before practice, after practice, on Saturdays. She was always wanting to perfect her game and be the best she could be for her team.”
The daughter of John and Nancy Thies of WInside and Lynell Thies of Wayne found her way into the starting lineup at Winside as a libero her freshman year, and she developed her defensive skills quickly to help her team make the first of three consecutive trips to the state volleyball tournament. She eventually became a hitter on the team and throughly enjoyed those years of playing volleyball for Coach Watters.
“I absolutely loved those years,” she said. “I have a special bond with Coach Watters and I still text her when I’m having troubles. High school ball was fun for all of us and we did so well, and it was really a close-knit team and Coach Watters was like a second mom.”
Watters said she always knew Thies would go on to play college volleyball somewhere, but never thought it would be at the Div. I level at South Dakota State University.
“With the love of the game she has, she was always trying to make it better and trying to improve herself and she had the competitor mindset that I saw, and I thought she could make a difference at the college level. I don’t know if Div. I was the ultimate dream, but she did everything she could to put herself in that best position.”
Thies caught a break her senior year when Northeast Community College resurrected its volleyball team and she was one of the Norfolk school’s first recruits. After a year there, though, Thies said she needed a change.
“I needed a new atmosphere, and Coach (Amanda) Schultze helped get me there,” she said.
“There” was Brookings, S.D., where a visit to the South Dakota State campus convinced her that this was where she needed to be.
“I got in contact with (former coach Phil McDaniel) and told him I wanted a new atmosphere,” she said. “I came up with my dad to visit and I just loved the campus and the girls, so I thought it was the perfect fit for me.”
And a good fit it has been. After starting seven games as a sophomore, she started all 32 matches last year and was third on the team in kills and kills per set. She has started every match this year and is in the top three on the Jackrabbits’ team in kills. She’s also expanded her play and become and all-around player.
“Last year she earned a starting spot and played in the front row, but this year’s she’s improved her serve receive and her defense and plays all the way around now,” coach Nicole Cirillo said. “She jumps well, swings hard and plays fearless, which is one of the biggest things she brings to the team.”
Thies also brings a lead-by-example approach to the team, preferring to let her actions do the talking.
“We have six seniors, so there is a lot of talk among the seniors and she kind of picks and chooses her time so that when she does speak, people listen because we know it’s worthwhile,” Cirillo said.
Thies said she tries to keep an open mind and a positive attitude on the floor and in practice.
“I’m not a vocal leader,” she said. “I try to lead by example and work hard and just keep an open mind and stay positive.”
Thies still remembers her high school days with great fondness, particularly the time on the volleyball floor.
“I remember the first time we went to state when I was a freshman and I wasn’t used to all of this stuff,” she said. “When we scored that last point at districts, I wasn’t sure how to respond and everybody was jumping up and down and Coach Watters was crying.”
Now a senior in college, Thies is finishing her degree in interdisciplinary studies with a marketing minor and hopes to go on to cosmetology school to be an esthecian or makeup artist. She’s learned a lot about herself thanks to her college experience, an experience made possible by that constant thumping of volleyballs off her dad’s garage door.
“I’ve struggled a lot with the mental side of the game, but I’ve learned a lot about being resilient and continuing to come back and all that hard work has paid off for me,” she said.