COLUMBIA - When Lauren Nuckolls graduated from high school in 2006, she went to play volleyball at the University of Central Missouri, which she says is 45 minutes from her home in Overland Park, Kan. Nuckolls had become closer to her family when her family moved to Kansas from Texas before her junior year of high school. She didn't want to go far from home for college.
"We weren't as close when we lived in Texas because we were used to that (the area)," she said. "But when we moved, we had to make all new friends. We all just became really close."
Nuckolls started in 21 matches her freshman year at UCM and played in 35 of them. But she felt a desire to go a bit farther away from home.
"I think I just became more comfortable with the fact that I didn't need my parents there always for me," she said. "I think when I grew up, our family was just always really close. We always just counted on each other a lot. My older brother was far away at college, too, and I saw that he was doing fine. And I finally was just like, ‘I need to grow up and get farther away.'"
While she was going farther away from her immediate family, coming to MU put Nuckolls closer to some of her extended family. She has grandparents and two aunts who live in Columbia.
"It's still like home, because my grandparents are right down the street," she said. "But it's far enough away from home that I don't see my parents every day at my doorstep."
When MU coach Wayne Kreklow got word Nuckolls wanted to transfer, he spoke with UCM coach Peggy Martin.
"She had a lot of good things to say about Lauren," Kreklow said. "So a lot of it was, you get a recommendation from somebody that you know, and that's kind of what we heard."
When Nuckolls came to MU, she wasn't able to play immediately. She had torn her ACL on Nov. 11, 2006. The plan was for her to redshirt last season. That changed during the Tigers' match Nov. 21, 2007, at Oklahoma.
"We were right in there with opportunities, I thought to really come out of there with a win, which would have been huge for our tournament seeding," Kreklow said. "And when you get to that point, you're just kind of looking for whatever you can to try to jump-start a team on offense. And Lauren was there and we just felt like this is an important enough match that we need to try to find whatever we can."
Nuckolls only played for a few points in that match, only logging one kill and one dig. Playing was a surprise for her.
"I was really nervous," she said. "I was shaking the entire time I was in there."
Nuckolls has seen more playing time this season. She has played in all six of the team's matches and in nine of the team's 24 sets this season. She had an MU career-high 12 kills against St. John's on Saturday.
"The last game against St. John's, I felt more comfortable because I had gotten in on every other game," she said. "But since I got to play a lot more in that game, the whole team was helping me out a lot and made me feel a lot more comfortable."
In the St. John's match, Nuckolls played outside hitter. But at 5-foot-11, Kreklow said she is somewhat undersized for that position by Big 12 standards. He said her size is more common for a defensive player.
"On a night when we play somebody who has a 6-5 right side hitter who can jump out of the gym and swing, we may have to look at some other options," he said. "But there's going to be a time and a place where I think Lauren can be effective in the front row."
No matter what her role is this season, Nuckolls said she prefers it to her role on the bench last season.
"I feel like more a part of the team," she said. "I feel like I have more on my shoulders. But, then again, I like the feeling a lot more."