As a Division-I soccer player at the University of Mississippi, Ally Nikolaus was living out her lifelong dream. She and her teammates traveled to Southeastern Conference campuses like Alabama, Florida and South Carolina to play against some of the best soccer squads in the nation.
Nikolaus started three games and played in 18 total contests her freshman year, despite not being one of Ole Miss’ scholarship players. Her role on the Rebels figured to only expand as she spent more time in the program. She loved the campus as well as the city it was located in. Life was good.
Except that it wasn’t.
As much as Nikolaus didn’t want to admit it, she disliked playing at Ole Miss.
“I tried my hardest to make it work there, but I think I knew deep down it just wasn’t for me,” Nikolaus said. “I stayed an entire year. I took summer school down there. I just wanted to want to be there, but I didn’t. My family and I went on vacation, and I came home for a little bit in the beginning of August (2011). I just didn’t want to leave. So I didn’t go back there.”
And she hasn’t looked back since. Shortly after electing not to return to Ole Miss, Nikolaus, who was born and raised in St. Louis, decided on a whim to attend Webster University. She’s not entirely sure why she settled on Webster, but she’s glad she did — as is her coach at Webster, Luigi Scire.
“What I like about her is that if no one asked, no one would really know that she played Division I her freshman year,” Scire said. “It’s never been, ‘I was a Division-I player and look at me.’ She’s humble, first and foremost. And with that, when it comes to the work rate and the way she approaches the game itself, she will never allow anyone to outwork her on the practice field or in a game.”
In just her second year in the Webster women’s soccer program, Nikolaus, a junior center midfielder, has already made her mark. Last year, Nikolaus started all 19 of the Gorloks’ games and led the team to a 12-6-1 overall record (7-1 conference). She recorded seven goals and two assists for 16 points, which ranked her third on the team.
For her efforts, Nikolaus was an All-Conference first-team selection in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. She was then named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-Central Region third team.
This year, Nikolaus has taken her game to new heights. She has captained Webster to a 14-5 overall record and a 7-1 mark in SLIAC play. Nikolaus has once again started every game and has compiled 10 goals and 10 assists for a team-high 30 points.
“She fears no one,” Scire said. “She communicates with the players around her that it’s just another team on that other side — we’ve got the physical ability and skill to compete with anybody. As coaches you try to convey that message. But when you have one of the leaders, and especially her, letting the players know that … I think that carries a lot of weight.”
Nikolaus’ achievements are especially impressive considering she said she visited Webster with “no intention of actually playing.” Nikolaus said she wasn’t burned out from the game of soccer, which she’s been playing since she was 3 years old.
But her time at Ole Miss certainly had taken its toll. Steve Holeman, the coach who recruited Nikolaus to Ole Miss and established the Rebels’ women’s soccer program, took a job as the head women’s soccer coach at the University of Georgia in 2010.
Some of Nikolaus’ Ole Miss teammates, who she described as “kind of catty” and “a really weird mix of people,” felt pressure because of the new coach and worried they wouldn’t be able to hold onto their scholarships. Nikolaus found herself playing soccer more than she was attending class. She knew something needed to change.
“I just had more downs than ups during my season at Ole Miss, both physically and mentally,” Nikolaus said. “So, I just subconsciously thought that soccer was the reason for how unhappy I was. But after I stopped playing for 10 months, I was just like a complete mess and wasn’t happy with anything. Once I started playing (at Webster), it slowly got better.”
Because Nikolaus decided to transfer out of Ole Miss in August, she didn’t have much time to select a new school. Nikolaus had a few friends who were attending Webster and was familiar with the university because of her ties to St. Louis, so she went with her gut.
When Nikolaus visited Webster, her father mentioned to the transfer counselor that Nikolaus played D-I soccer the year prior. This information was relayed to Scire, who works in admissions and was just a few feet down the hall from Nikolaus. Scire immediately met with Nikolaus and offered her a spot on the team. Though she hadn’t played soccer in nearly a year, Nikolaus accepted Scire’s offer.
Nikolaus said she doesn’t see a “drastic difference in competition” in Division III compared to Division I. However, she does notice a difference in her Webster teammates compared to her Ole Miss ones.
“Everyone is a hell of a lot nicer,” Nikolaus said. “Nobody is really stuck up or anything. Nobody is entirely cocky. They’re confident, but they’re not arrogant. They’re fun to be around.”
Nikolaus, a speech communications major, wants to be a personal trainer when she graduates from Webster. She plans on starting her studies for that next semester, though she will still be attending Webster and playing for the soccer team next season.
But before that begins, her goal is to lead the Gorloks to a berth in the NCAA tournament. Webster plays Fontbonne University in a SLIAC tournament semifinal on Wednesday, Oct. 31. If the Gorloks beat the Griffins, they will advance to the SLIAC tournament championship on Friday, Nov. 2.
“I definitely made the right decision about leaving Mississippi,” Nikolaus said. “I was definitely hesitant a lot last year about playing soccer and even being at Webster, but now I obviously am not going to transfer. I can’t imagine myself playing for any other school right now.”
To read about another former D-I athlete currently at Webster — volleyball middle hitter Samantha Kersting — click here.