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‘She’s going to do whatever it takes to win’

Campbellsville University’s Cierra Merrick finding success on volleyball court
This season, Cierra Merrick was the Tigers’ kill leader, kills per set leader and was selected for the Mid-South Conference First Team. (CU Sports Information)

With the fourth highest kills per set and sixth most kills in all of NAIA Mid-South Conference volleyball, Campbellsville University junior Cierra Merrick is making a name for herself.

It was no anomaly that she showed signs of greatness on the volleyball court this season, nor was it a mistake when she was given NCCAA Second Team All-American honors as a freshman. Merrick’s successes have stemmed from years of hard work, dedication and her love for the game.

She began playing volleyball when she was eight years old, and was coached by her mom, Danielle Merrick, through middle school, high school and club teams. Merrick’s older sister also grew up playing volleyball, and had a significant impact on Merrick’s love for the game. According to her sister, their grandparents owned a volleyball gym, and they were both in there all the time helping each other get better. However, Merrick was not always the committed player she is today.

“I could’ve started earlier, but my parents said that I just wasn’t interested… I think because my sister did it,” said Merrick. “But then I just started playing a lot because I was always in the gym with volleyball, so then I eventually was like, ‘Okay, I wanna play now.’”

Her dedication to volleyball began to shine when she was in high school. When she was 16, Merrick was playing for three separate teams while still attending high school. She said her schedule would consist of high school practices earlier in the day, followed by two later practices with both of the Rolling Hills Volleyball Club’s 16U and 18U teams. All three of these teams were coached by her mother.

“I don’t know how I did it. But at the time I loved it,” she said. “Going to three practices in one day, I could never do that anymore. But then, I loved it. I didn’t care… I had tournaments every weekend, so I never had a weekend free. But for me in high school that wasn’t a problem. I didn’t care. I just wanted to play volleyball.”

Mrs. Merrick said it was a privilege to have her daughter with her all the time, and to watch her excel and grow in the game. However, she said she was conscious about having to “wear two hats,” being both her coach and her mom.

Although she was coached by her mother for several years, Merrick said her mother was always hardest on her, and made sure it was known she wouldn’t be receiving any preferential treatment. Mrs. Merrick agreed, and said it was easiest to use her daughter as an example if she was goofing off.

Despite not going easy on her, Merrick said her mother truly cared about each of her players personally, as well as in volleyball. While she was playing for her mother at Rolling Hills Christian School, Merrick helped her team win five state titles as a starter. The team hasn’t won a championship since her graduation.

“I think she’s an amazing coach, and the way she treats her players and everything, I definitely tell them they should appreciate that,” said Merrick. “It’s hard to find a good coach that cares about you personally in your sport.”

Now that she’s in college and no longer playing for her mother, Merrick said her mom is doing great being supportive and encouraging. Merrick also said that whenever she would get frustrated with her performance, her mother would always be there to help change that, and would remind her why she loves to play volleyball.

Looking forward to her senior season, Cierra Merrick said one of her personal goals is to stay confident, even if she has a rough game. “I think this year I did better at not getting frustrated and getting out of my own head,” Merrick said. (CU Sports Information)

Merrick said she also misses playing alongside her sister. The duo began playing together when Merrick was a freshman in high school, and were teammates during her first two years at CU. However, Merrick was unsure about committing to CU at first because she wanted to do something different from her sister.

When she went on her initial visit to CU, Merrick said that she had already become close with most of the team, thanks to her sister, Paige. Merrick said Paige, the 2022 setter of the year, made it a lot easier for her to transition from high school to college, and that she had missed playing with her as her setter before her commitment to CU.

“I definitely was not expecting to start or to play at first because I feel like that’s how everyone thinks as a freshman. I think as a freshman you have to work so much harder than everyone else because everyone else had already been there, and for me, my freshman class was only one other person,” Merrick said. “Having my sister as my setter, it helped me a lot because we have such a good connection with each other. We would run all these plays and we just had a good connection which helped.”

Typically, most freshmen going into new athletic programs start at the bottom of the food chain, and have to work their way up to make a name for themselves. Merrick did exactly that. She said she worked hard every practice to show herself and her team what she was capable of, and solidified herself as a starter on opening day. Merrick believed her coach and her team had confidence in her.

Confidence has always been a key factor in the way Merrick plays her game. The year after Merrick’s freshman campaign year, CU got a new coach who had her transition to outside hitter after a teammate’s injury. She said the change was a real challenge that caused her to lose some of that confidence.

“As an outside, it was definitely new for me, and so it was frustrating at times,” she said, “but my coaches just kept telling me they believed in me and that they knew I could do it. And then I also knew I could have that opportunity to pass as well, and be all six, and I really wanted that.”

Even though she struggled with adapting to her new position, Merrick did not let that dampen the light she tried to bring to the court every day. Mrs. Merrick said oftentimes fun-loving personalities aren’t all in, but said despite her daughter’s fun-loving goofiness, when it came down to gametime, she was all in.

“I try to be funny all the time and in practice. I don’t take things that serious,” Merrick said. “But I think, for me, I definitely like to have more fun, I like to goof off and stuff. For me, it’s just more fun.”

Merrick said being a good teammate was also very important to her, and if she saw a teammate struggling, she would tell them what she would want to hear if she were in their shoes.

“She was a great teammate,” Mrs. Merrick said. “She’s a high-level player and always was. Being one of the best, sometimes they’re bratty… She was an awesome kid. She was always smiling and cutting up; she treated everyone the same… When you’re the top athlete, it’s easy to be snobby, but that’s just not who she is.”

Merrick has been the teammate that would support her team no matter what, and said she was harder on herself than she would ever be on anyone else. Merrick said she is always trying to be encouraging, yet she doesn’t consider herself a leader.

“I definitely wasn’t a leader… I think what our coach was wanting at the time to be a leader, is not what I was ever gonna be,” Merrick said. “I definitely tried to always bring in positive energy, and I told my coach that I’m just gonna try to be the positive one and help the team. Because hearing so many bad things it’s like, then you go out into the game like, ‘Okay here we go.’ So, I definitely try to help them with that and say something positive before going out.”

Despite not seeing herself as a leader, her sister Paige said she was definitely a leader. She said people always notice the loudest person on the court having the most fun, smiling and loving the game, and that was her sister.

“I’ve always seen her as a leader. She’s always had a really good mindset,” Paige said, “and just being around her, she always helps me see the good in things. After a bad practice, I’m the type of person to be negative but she’s always there to remind me of the good stuff… She brought that side out of me as well.”

As her sophomore season came to an end, Merrick wasn’t satisfied with how she performed as an outside hitter, so she spent a lot of time the following summer strengthening her weaknesses. She spent time training with her sister, fellow teammates and once with Melissa Starck-Bean, former assistant volleyball coach for the University of Louisville.

“She came home, worked in a gym, invited her college friends, and worked all summer at becoming an outside. I was so proud of her,” said Mrs. Merrick.

It is important to recognize there were no outside influences forcing Merrick to improve. She said her drive to get better came from her own determination and goal setting.

“This year, my personal goal was not to get so frustrated with myself and have more confidence,” said Merrick.

After the hard work she put in during summer, Merrick had gained her confidence back as an outside hitter. She added that her sister was a big help when she first had to switch positions, but said she could no longer rely on her, and would have to figure out further adjustments herself. This season, Merrick was the Tigers’ kill leader, kills per set leader and was selected for the Mid-South Conference First Team.

With only one more year of eligibility, CierraMerrick said she has been thinking about what she wants to do after college. She said she would love to play volleyball overseas in Italy or Spain, but also said it would be awesome to become a coach. (CU Sports Information)

The numbers Merrick put up this season have pleaded a good case to land her All-American honors again, but she said that has never been her goal.

“I mean that would be awesome [but] I’m not really big about awards,” she said. “If I get it, obviously I’m happy, I’m proud because I did work to get that… but it’s never a goal of mine because I’m not focused on that.”

Merrick said all she focused on during the season was the game she was playing, or the next game ahead.

Going into the season, the big goal Merrick had was to win the MSC Championship. The Tigers were the one-seed going into the MSC Championship tournament, but fell to rival Lindsey Wilson Blue Raiders in the semi-finals.

Another goal she said she had for this season was to be close as a team and avoid drama. Merrick said last year there was only one freshman and one transfer new to the team, totaling 13 players, so they were already very close to start their year. This year, they had only six returning players and 11 new players.

“I think going from that year to this year, it’s hard to beat that because last year was the closest team we’ve ever had. We were all so close with each other and we just had a connection,” Merrick said. “We had a lot of new freshmen, so I think that was hard in the beginning. There was only like six of us returners, so we had to help them with everything like learning how to adjust.”

One of the returning players from last season was Merrick’s best friend on the team, sophomore Sofia Ramsey, who was a defensive specialist libero. Merrick said the two would help each other get competitive in practices by going back and forth trying to get under each other’s skin.

Looking forward to her senior season, Merrick said she has already begun thinking about goals for herself. She said one of her personal goals is to stay confident, even if she has a rough game.

“I think this year I did better at not getting frustrated and getting out of my own head,” Merrick said. “Usually, I noticed that once I would get out of my own head I would start doing better again.”

Another goal Merrick said she had for herself next season was to be more consistent, which she said was important in being a good player for her team. She said her sister was her role model in this regard, and that she was always focused on playing her game and staying confident and consistent.

“I think there were times that I was always like, ‘I wish I had those things,’” Merrick said. “She was so good about being consistent every game, like you could never catch her on a bad game… and she wasn’t so frustrated with herself. She was always confident and knew that she was fine… I think that was one of the things that I look up to her as, she was confident and just didn’t get frustrated, and she wasn’t hard on herself.”

Merrick said her and Paige were best friends, and they never had issues living in each other’s shadow because they understood how different they were from each other.

“I really miss playing with her,” Paige said, “because we had so much fun out on the court together. Even in practice, when things were so serious, we always had each other’s back and made it more fun and comfortable. Playing together was a good mix because I’d calm her down and she’d do the same and help me smile or laugh and be more goofy like her.”

With only one more year of eligibility, Merrick said she has been thinking about what she wants to do after college. She said she would love to play volleyball overseas in Italy or Spain, but also said it would be awesome to become a coach. When she goes home for the breaks, she gives lessons and does camps with younger kids, and says she enjoys it because they listen well and want to get better. No matter what, she said she always wants to have volleyball in her life.

Mrs. Merrick said that her daughter’s competitiveness and desire to win is what sets her apart from other players.

“She’s a winner, and she knows how to win,” said Mrs. Merrick. “You can’t coach that. She’s going to do whatever it takes to win.”

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About the Contributor
Joe McBride
Joe McBride was born and raised in Everett, Washington. This is his fourth year of college, but his first year at Campbellsville University. His prior colleges include Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett.
McBride is a pitcher for the Campbellsville University baseball team, and has been playing baseball since he could swing a bat. It's safe to say baseball is life for McBride, as playing professionally is his main goal in life.
He's majoring in mass communication with an emphasis in journalism, and is minoring in sports management. He hopes to become a sports writer someday. This is his first year reporting for The Campus Times.
Outside of education and athletics, McBride lives on a lake off campus with three teammates and enjoys fishing and hunting small game on their property. His role model is his 82-year-old grandfather who was a renowned sportswriter for 40 years.
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