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Athlete of the Week is ESM volleyball player Colin Nikc

Colin Nikc of Eastport-South Manor stretches for the

Colin Nikc of Eastport-South Manor stretches for the ball during a Suffolk boys volleyball game against Smithtown West on Oct. 12, 2017. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

Colin Nikc credits the strides he’s made this season for the Eastport-South Manor boys volleyball team to the work he did as the second-string setter last season.

Truly a student of the game, Nikc watched attentively as Parker Bachisin’s sets propelled ESM to a state Class B championship last season. Now, Nikc’s the one running the show as the Sharks surge through the best teams in Suffolk I.

Nikc totaled 95 assists last week in wins over Lindenhurst and Whitman, two playoff teams, earning him Newsday’s Athlete of the Week honors.

“I just tried to take in as much information as I could from the great team we had last year and apply that in practice,” Nikc said. “I’m a pretty quick learner when I want to learn something. I would always just try and put myself in the best position on the court by using the information that I gained over the years.”

Nikc, a senior, isn’t a stranger to studying. In the classroom, Nikc takes four advanced placement courses and has his sights set on becoming an aerospace engineer majoring in physics, said his father, Robert.

ESM coach Bruce Stiriz said Nikc’s capacity to learn has helped his transition into the starting lineup at a position that demands quick thinking.

“Our whole offense goes through him,” Stiriz said. “He has to first read the defense and then adjust accordingly. It’s on the fly. Depending on where the pass brings him, if we’re in system, that makes his life a little easier. If it’s out of system, when the pass isn’t on target, now he has to come up with other ideas. He always has a contingency plan.”

Nikc’s leadership has ESM entrenched at the top of Suffolk I with Sachem North, both of which are 12-1. He’s used a trio of big hitters — Brennen Brandow, Tommy Ogeka and Quinn Foglia — to make sure the Sharks always have a chance to win.

Each hitter likes the ball set in different ways, so Nikc works individually with each one to ensure they’re on the same page. Libero Tyler Plitt, who is also Nikc’s doubles partner for ESM boys tennis, makes sure Nikc gets accurate passes to work with.

“If there’s not a good pass, then there can’t be a good set, which leads to a bad hit,” Nikc said. “Having a great libero like Tyler makes it easier to get all the assists that I have.”

Given his vast improvement, Nikc has the Sharks poised to compete for a county title after moving up to Class A.

“His confidence level is tremendous,” Stiriz said. “In any given situation, he knows exactly where to go and how to direct this team. It has been tenfold since last season.”

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