Lockwood brings experience to NIU volleyball

Former Fighting Irish making waves on NIU’s starting lineup


Sean Reed

(Left to right) Ella Mihacevich, Sammi Lockwood and Katie Jablonski positioning to receive a spike from NJIT during the first set of the team’s match on Friday. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

The transfer portal gives and the transfer portal takes. NIU volleyball has firsthand experience with that, especially this offseason.

The Huskies lost a combined eight years of experience after the departures of middle blockers Jasmine Kemp and Angie Gromos over the offseason. NIU was able to return some of that experience to its middle blocker group thanks to the acquisition of junior middle blocker Sammi Lockwood.

Lockwood’s year, as listed on NIU’s current roster, can be deceiving, though. This is for one simple reason: Lockwood has already graduated from college.

Lockwood arrived at NIU over the summer after playing three seasons for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish. After earning her bachelor’s degree,, Lockwood set out to find another team to spend her remaining college playing days with.

“Once I realized that I could graduate and still have two or three years of eligibility, I knew that I wanted to continue, but at a different university,” Lockwood said.

A shuffle of sports

Players typically begin their volleyball careers at various points in their youth. Lockwood’s volleyball journey began when she was in middle school. Her decision to take up the sport arose as an alternative to the popular sport in her circles.

Lockwood said she comes from a family that has run cross country their entire lives. She ran her first 5k in seventh grade with her mother. The time came where there was no longer a thrill in the race.

“I just didn’t want to do it anymore in seventh grade,” Lockwood said. “I had to play a sport, that was our family rule, so I chose volleyball.”

Before her volleyball days, Lockwood was a longtime soccer player having played it her entire life. She credits her soccer experience for helping her adjust to a new sport.

“Soccer helped a lot with my transition to volleyball,” Lockwood said. “Just being able to move really quickly because middles need to move laterally a lot, very quickly.”

Everything went just right

When the time came to recruit Lockwood, NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden said that the process required everything to fall into place just right.

“Sammi was a highly recruited player from the burbs; played for a local club that we’re connected with,” Gooden said. “(She) committed to her last school pretty early.”

Once another opportunity to recruit Lockwood presented itself, Gooden said that each step of the process had to go exactly as planned.

“When this all came up, a lot of things had to go right,” Gooden said. “She worked really, really hard to make it go right. We tried to do our part to not mess things up. Then we were able to get her in the summer.”

Lockwood’s time in DeKalb has made Gooden believe that having her on NIU’s squad has proven beneficial.

“It’s been great for us since she’s been here,” Gooden said. “Her ability to work and help others around her get better are some pretty good attributes for her.”

The benefits of Lockwood’s transfer have been felt on both sides of the arrangement.

“There were a bunch of things that originally drew me to Northern,” Lockwood said.

It’s not about what you know. It’s who you know.

Lockwood knew of Gooden before ever coming to play for the Huskies. As a former Fighting Irish, Lockwood was teammates with outside hitter Charley Niego for all three years. Niego, who has since transferred to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, has family with connections to Gooden.

“Her (Niego’s) family is really, really close, like family friends, with Ray,” Lockwood said. “Once I started talking to them, I got even more information about how much they loved him.”

The Cary native also got firsthand experience with Gooden early in her time at Prairie Ridge High School.

“My freshman year of high school, we did a team camp here (at NIU) and I really liked how he (Gooden) ran things,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood is now looking to make herself a valuable asset to her new team in her fourth season of college ball.

“I definitely want to cement that I want to be a good part of the team,” Lockwood said.

Like many things, however, accomplishing this was easier said than done.

Making a smooth transition

“It was a little tough for me at first because I wasn’t in a leadership role at Notre Dame,” Lockwoodi said. “Ray and Joe (assistant coach Yohannehs “Joe” Davidson) have been pushing me to use my voice. I have my experience and they want me to use it.”

One of Lockwood’s biggest assets during her transition to NIU has been her teammate and roommate, junior right-side hitter Emily Dykes. Both players are in their first seasons as Huskies, but Dykes has one semester over Lockwood after the former transferred in this past spring.

“Since I was here in the spring, I really helped her adjust,” Dykes said. “We’re both experiencing these new things at the same time. It’s been helpful for both of us, not just me.”

The time spent establishing a connection with each other has also helped both players communicate on the court on game days.

“We have had the time before the season even started to build a relationship,” Dykes said. “We just easily talk to each other. I just feel like it flows really well.”

Opponents, beware

It didn’t take long for Lockwood to make her presence felt at Victor E. Court. She has been a member of NIU’s starting lineup in all of the past 10 matches played so far.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Lockwood is the tallest Huskie on the roster. Her height, combined with her past playing experience at a Power 5 school, have helped her lead NIU in multiple stat categories.

Lockwood is second in kills (90) and kills per set (2.65) this season. She is only behind senior outside hitter Katie Jablonski and a smidge ahead of junior middle blocker Charli Atiemo on that leaderboard. On the defensive side of things, Lockwood leads the Huskies with 37 blocks and 1.09 blocks per set.

Lockwood and the Huskies will look to build on their successes as they head into the Mid-American Conference stretch of their schedule.