By Tia Babbel
Former BYU women”s volleyball standout Nina Puikkonen has decided to take a break from her professional volleyball career and try her hand at coaching.
In March of 2003, Puikkonen returned to the United States ready to explore other talents and is now an assistant women”s volleyball coach at Utah Valley State College.
As assistant coach, Puikkonen loves the chance to teach girls about her passion.
“I”m teaching girls kind of how I learned how to play,” Puikkonen said. “Coaching is something I enjoy, it”s at least something that I can see myself doing. I do have that option of going back to school, or once again playing volleyball, but we”ll see.”
Puikkonen still has the dream of continuing her career as a professional athlete but right now she is focusing other aspects of her life like school and coaching.
Puikkonen is known as a prime coach because she knows the game. She is a three-time All-American, BYU”s all-time leader in blocks per game (1.87) and finished her college career with an invitation to play with the U.S. National Team.
“Nina is one of the premiere players in the country and a legitimate candidate for national player of the year,” former BYU women”s head volleyball coach Elaine Michaelis said of Puikkonen when she was still playing at BYU. “She is the best blocker in the country and has the fastest attack we have had at BYU. She is a perfectionist and always trying to improve.”
Puikkonen graduated from BYU in Zoology in 200,1 ending her college career but just beginning her volleyball legacy.
After graduation, Puikkonen accepted the invitation to play with the U.S. Women”s National Volleyball Team and began training with them.
After playing with the National team for a short time she was then recruited to play with the Chicago Thunder in the United States Professional Volleyball League. She was the first BYU graduate recruited to play in the USPV.
But, the league folded in December 2002 – only one month before the season was scheduled to start. The news of the collapsing of the league was devastating to volleyball players around the world and left many team less with nowhere to play.
Finally, after many months of searching, Puikkonen found the Tarmo-Volley, a professional volleyball team in the Suomen-Masterus League (SM League) based in the city of H?meenlinna, Finland.
With Finnish roots, Puikkonen seemed to be a perfect all-around fit, but somehow no one knew who she was.
“I guess before word got out officially, rumor had it here that someone from the USA National Team was coming to play, and they were all trying to figure out who — my name wasn”t even thought of — which I guess is good for me,” Puikkonen said.
Once word got out though, Puikkonen became a star. She stayed with the league one season, earning her first gold metal and leading the team to their third Finnish National title.
” I had fun, but there were different challenges and a lot of adjustment,” Puikkonen said. “My setter was still in high school which was different for me and took some adjusting to.”
Now, back in the U.S. Puikkonen is satisfied with her volleyball career.
“Life as a professional athlete wasn”t what I imagined it to be, but I had fun and learned a lot,” Puikkonen said.
Within the next five years, Puikkonen sees herself continuing to coach and going back to school to get her NBA.