In a world where kids are often defined by the sports and activities in which they participate, finding one’s place can be a difficult task.
For Lovell native Nyckalas Harvey, the task was even greater, as his chosen sport wasn’t readily available for his gender.
While most kids his age were gravitating toward football, baseball and basketball, Harvey chose a different path, aided in no small part by what proved to be a fortuitous gift.
“I got a volleyball one year for Christmas,” Harvey said. “I think that’s what started it all. I started going to every volleyball game I could. We would come over to Northwest [College] and watch Coach [Shaun] Pohlman’s team, and I would watch volleyball on TV all the time. I was eating and sleeping volleyball.”
That obsession has finally paid off: Harvey, an NWC sophomore and a student assistant for the Lady Trappers the past two seasons, will trade in his coaching garb for a jersey this spring, as he suits up for the men’s volleyball team at Missouri Valley College.
“It makes me really happy to know that I can put on that jersey, and that I’m not just representing myself, but all the people that have made sacrifices for me,” Harvey said of his opportunity to play. “Coach Pohlman, my folks, my family — I want to put a picture out there for anyone from small towns like Lovell that even if opportunities are scarce, if you work hard enough, anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Finding a passion, chasing a dream
The passion for volleyball was one thing; having the opportunity to pursue it was another entirely. Aside from the occasional pick-up game in PE class, there weren’t a lot of chances for Harvey to develop his game. He tried to volunteer with the school teams, but his inquiries fell on deaf ears.
“I tried super hard to learn the game some more, but the head coach at the time wasn’t willing to do that,” Harvey said of volunteering. “It was really sad, actually.”
After graduating Lovell High School in 2016, Harvey set his sights on college, hoping to become involved with volleyball in some capacity. He was considering a couple of four-year institutions out of state, when an opportunity presented itself just up the road.
“I planned on going to Texas A&M, or something big like that,” Harvey explained. “That was when Shaun Pohlman contacted me and asked if I wanted to help him coach at NWC.”
Pohlman heard of Harvey’s passion for volleyball through one of his former players, and found the young man’s story mirrored his own.
“We were looking for some help; our budget [at NWC] had just been cut,” Pohlman said. “I was told by someone who knew Nyckalas that he was really committed — he’ll be reliable, trustworthy, dedicated to the sport. For me, what more could I ask for?”
As Pohlman and Harvey’s friendship grew, Harvey approached the coach about helping him develop his skills as a player, with an eye toward one day competing at the collegiate level.
“He asked if I would provide personal lessons, and he would pay me money,” Pohlman said, chuckling at the memory. “I was like, ‘Yeah, you don’t need to pay me money.’ But that’s kind of a testament to him; he didn’t expect anything to be handed to him for free. He really dedicated himself at a very, very high level; I’d say more than some of the players we had on our team.”
Pohlman said Harvey was an integral part of the Lady Trappers’ success the past two seasons, and knew the assistant would do whatever he could to make the team better.
As he does with other student assistants, Pohlman told Harvey that “there are going to be days where you’re being used as a tool, without a whole lot of thanks. I try to turn people off from the position, because I don’t want to get into the trenches with them and have them back out,” Pohlman explained. “Nyck never batted an eye — he went above and beyond what was expected of him, and that allowed me to do my job better.”
Preparing for the next step
Pohlman knows the road ahead for Harvey will be daunting at times, but he’s confident his protege has the right skills and mindset.
“He’s not delusional, he’s coming in at the bottom of the totem pole and he knows it,” Pohlman said of Harvey. “They [Missouri Valley College] are a very strong program, and he can advance his skills and abilities very, very quickly. If he follows his passion and lets his passion take over, I think he can go far. He’s got the kind of dedication I don’t think most people have.”
Working with Pohlman — one of the top coaches in the NJCAA — developed Harvey’s talent and earned him a shot with one of the top collegiate men’s volleyball programs in the country.
“It’s kind of weird that at one point I wanted to play volleyball in college so bad that I was willing to pay for it,” he said, referring to a thought he had of going from NWC to a club team at Utah State. “Now it’s like I’m going to get paid to play for a team, which is super fun.”
A quick Google search of the Missouri Valley College men’s volleyball program tells the tale: This isn’t a club team or part of a co-ed rec league. The Vikings finished last season ranked sixth in the nation, while making their first appearance in the NAIA National Invitational. Harvey knows going in his work is cut out for him, but said he’s prepared for the challenge.
“I’m super excited now, because I get to go live my dream, not only for me, but also for Coach Pohlman,” Harvey said. “He worked so hard to get me where I am. He helped me grow, not only in the game of volleyball, but in life. I know that no matter what I come across now, because I was a part of Trapper volleyball program, I can handle anything that comes my way. Once a Trapper, always a Trapper.”
Closing one door, opening another
Despite his dedication to NWC, Harvey will be unable to graduate with his class in May; he’s transferring to Missouri Valley this spring semester to be ready for the start of volleyball season.
“The volleyball season begins in the spring, and my first game is like 15 days after I get there,” he explained. “I technically have four years of eligibility, so I can enter as a freshman and play all four years.”
Harvey will be leaving NWC at the same time as his mentor, as Pohlman was named head coach at Lewis-Clark State College late last month. Though he’ll most likely have his pick of assistants at his new gig, Pohlman said Harvey will be hard to replace.
“To have someone who believes in you at such a deep level despite not getting anything in return in the immediate sense, that’s a hard thing not to miss,” Pohlman said. “Just that belief and that faith in me as a person and a coach — I know 100 percent that guy’s got my back — that’s a tough thing to have to say goodbye to.”
Asked what he’ll miss the most about NWC, Harvey said the answer is simple.
“I’ll miss the team the most,” he said. “They were really like family to me; they’re what kept me there, kept me going. I’ll miss the family and the culture that was available to everyone. I’m excited [about Missouri Valley] but nervous. It’s a long way from home, but I’m really ready to take on the journey.”
Harvey said he’s amazed at the direction his life has taken, set in motion by a simple gift years ago.
“I still have that volleyball,” he said, laughing.