CCAA Hall of Fame: Dominant Griffins volleyball career set Lana Nicoll (nee Common) up for success

Dr. Lana Nicoll will be inducted into the CCAA Hall of Fame on June 11 during a ceremony in Calgary.
Dr. Lana Nicoll will be inducted into the CCAA Hall of Fame on June 11 during a ceremony in Calgary.

Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – Relocated to Edmonton after 12 years running a chiropractic practice in California, Dr. Lana Nicoll (nee Common) received a surprise phone call a couple months back from her old place of employment.

It was how the former MacEwan Griffins women's volleyball player first heard she is going to be inducted into the Canadian Colleges Athletic Association Hall of Fame this June.

"The doctors who took over my practice called me and said 'hey, we got a phone call from the CCAA and we think it's the same as the NCAA here and they want to induct you,' " she explained. "They were trying to find me. So, they were very excited for me. That's the first inkling I got and then I made the phone call (to the CCAA) and they called me back. It was very exciting."

After receiving the welcome news that she will be inducted on June 11 during a ceremony in Calgary, Nicoll – who was the first student-athlete on MacEwan's Wall of Distinction for her stellar playing career that spanned from 1993-98 – has had time to reflect on her remarkable journey as an athlete and how that's dove-tailed into success in the rest of her life.

"First, I was just so blown away," she said. "You think about the things that you did when you were younger and how you poured your heart and soul into it. At the time you don't really realize and then you get to look back now with all this time passed, it was such a huge honour and a neat experience in my life to be like 'wow, it does matter.' It matters putting in the hard work, it matters working hard in school and on the court. The success it brings in your life where you are now ..."

Nicoll's university career was special. The three-time CCAA All-Canadian (1995, 1997, 1998) on the court was also a standout in the classroom, earning CCAA Academic All-Canadian honours four times (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998) as she worked towards a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science and eventually a Bachelor of Physical Education.

During her tenure at MacEwan, the Griffins won consecutive Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championships (1996-97 and 1997-98), while reaching the CCAA national championship in each of her four seasons. The Griffins captured CCAA silver in 1997 and bronze in 1998.

Lana Nicoll (nee Common) was named a CCAA All-Canadian three times during her Griffins career (Handout).

Nicoll graduated from Sherwood Park's Bev Facey and immediately joined a 1993-94 MacEwan team coached by former Canadian national team member Daryl Young. Even as a rookie, her talent was undeniable as she earned big minutes on the left side for a coach she credits for a good portion of her early success.

"He was phenomenal and very much about foundational skills," Nicoll explained. "We just did repetitive passing and setting and blocking. Only when we got really great at those we put them together. Having that first year of just focusing on the fundamentals of the game, it really helped me as a player to explode. That's where things really took off for me. He was a phenomenal coach."

She also played under Tara Algajer and Val Cooke-Nelson, and noted that current Griffins women's volleyball head coach Ken Briggs – who has been at the helm of the program since 2002 – was one of her first club volleyball coaches.

"That was a time of my life when I look back now … maybe I was ignorant at the time, but I just felt so confident and powerful and so unstoppable," said Nicoll. "We had coaches that helped us work on our mindset. It was an amazing feeling to be in that flow. Athletes talk about being in the zone. We just got in that flow where we felt unstoppable. The excitement, the adrenaline, the rush … I really look back on those times as some of the most favourite I've ever been a part of."

One of her most enduring memories is from her final season (1997-98) when the 20-0 Griffins were about to meet the 20-0 Mount Royal Cougars in the gold medal match for the ACAC Championship.

"I remember sitting in the basement at Mount Royal waiting for the provincial (bronze match) to be finished," she recalled. "It went five games and we could hear it – the intensity. (The game time) was way running late and all of us were (a bundle of) nerves. There's a couple girls who threw up. It's just so funny. We were trying to laugh and make each other calm.

"We went on to win that pretty handily against Mount Royal to go to nationals."

All that was missing from her resume was a national title. Although the Griffins came close, it wasn't meant to be as they twice watched Quebec powerhouse F.X. Garneau claim CCAA championships. The Griffins lost to them in the 1997 national final.

"We were very dominant in Alberta at the time and nationally – it was awesome," said Nicoll. "We just didn't get that national title. We lost in the national final. It was horrible."

Nicoll coached the Griffins in 1998-99 before she moved to San Francisco to pursue a chiropractic degree, staying in northern California to run a practice specializing in family chiropractic needs for 12 years.

It was another volleyball connection that eventually brought her back home, though. In 2016, she sold her practice and moved back to Edmonton when she married college sweetheart Derek Nicoll – a star volleyball player for the Grande Prairie Regional College Wolves and University of Alberta Golden Bears.

"Him and I went our separate ways for 19 years and then reconnected in California," she said. "He's why I moved home. Here we are now with four kiddos."

Dr. Lana Nicoll returned to Edmonton from California three years ago and married college friend Derek Nicoll. The pair originally met nearly two decades ago playing volleyball in the ACAC (Family Handout).

And the local volleyball scene is very much becoming part of their lives again. They often attend MacEwan and Alberta games – bringing back fond memories.

"If I were to sum it up, I'd say my time at Grant MacEwan is some of the best memories I have," said Nicoll. "I'm so grateful to have had that experience to be selected as a Griffin and to be able to learn different life skills of leadership, work ethic, teamwork and sportsmanship.

"Learning how to push myself and all those amazing life skills you tend to learn in sports and you don't realize the impact they'll make at the time for you being a powerful and successful adult. I'm just so thankful for those times and the friendships. All the things I went through there are some of the fondest memories of my life."