Minutes after her high school volleyball career had come to an end, Ardsley senior Nicolina Chenard was handed a business card from sophomore setter Christina Chu. The card belonged to Dan Altro, director of the Downstate Volleyball Club, leading Chenard to believe he was showing interest for her to join his Peekskill-based club.
“Oh my God, he wants me to play Downstate, are you kidding?” she recalled. “Everyone knows I don’t.”
Chenard, the focus of a Sept. 20 Journal News column about how three-sport athletes are somewhat punished for not choosing to play one sport year-round, had no intentions of playing club.
Altro had bigger plans.
Altro is also the head coach at Dominican College in Orangeburg, and the aforementioned column was the reason he was in the Walter Panas High School gymnasium to watch the Section 1 Class B final on Nov. 7.
“I didn’t know who she was until I read the article,” Altro said.
Within a month, the girl many believed wasn’t good enough to play collegiately or wasn’t recruited because she chose not to play club volleyball had an offer to play Division II volleyball — with scholarship money, to boot.
“I thought she has a lot of potential, and for me, at Dominican, she can definitely help us out,” Altro said. “I got to talk to her, and I liked her attitude and I thought she was a great kid. I watched her attitude on the court and everything.
“Not often do you find kids that are non-club kids that are good enough to play really good collegiate volleyball or stand out much.”
Downstate is home to approximately 400 players of all ages — including many of the top players in Section 1 — and features teams that compete on a national, regional, and local level.
Chenard actually signed up to play Downstate her sophomore year, then pulled out at the last minute to continue playing high school basketball. Altro said the powerful outside hitter would be on a national team if she were playing club this year.
“A lot of people don’t really give the due to a student-athlete for their time commitment and their sacrifice that they make,” Altro said. “They lose a lot of opportunities to spend time with their friends because of their sport and their passion. It’s pretty impressive, the amount of sacrifice they have.”
Chenard has not signed her National Letter of Intent yet, but has already received her financial aid package. She will receive scholarships for both academics and athletics, Altro said.
Altro said Downstate national teams practice three times per week, with tournaments running from January through the end of May or early June. Teams can travel from anywhere to California, to Colorado, to Georgia, Altro said.
“It’s definitely a relief because all these months I’ve been stressing, ‘Where am I even going to go?’ because I don’t know if I could get through college without doing (a sport),” said Chenard, who is currently tearing it up on the softball field for the Panthers. “It’s a good feeling to know that I get to do something that I love for another four years.”
Chenard’s mother, Christine, informed me of the news this past Monday.
Chenard’s scholarship offer not only means that there’s hope for multi-sport athletes who can fall through the cracks by not committing to one sport year-round, but it’s also definitive proof that journalism still matters and can still have an impact — and that’s probably the best part of all of this.
However, the fact remains that Altro still would not know who Chenard was had he not seen the column. How can multi-sport high school athletes get on the radar of college coaches if they choose not to do club volleyball, AAU basketball, travel baseball and softball, and the like?
“The best way (to get noticed) is to go to these combines, honestly,” Altro said. “Some sports run combines —recruiting combines or college combines — where (players) go to a showcase and they can perform there and then their information gets put into a database and then the showcase sends the database information to college coaches.”
It was more stressful than she (and her family) would’ve liked, but Chenard eventually beat the odds.
“It’s sad that some kids do slip through,” Altro said. “But I think this one has a pretty good ending to it.”