Change Brings Success 

Change can be a good thing. With it comes a fresh start and — with hard work and a little luck — a plethora of success. For junior Rachel Hickman, UNC was just the change she was looking for. 

The Lawrence, Kansas native was a standout player at Free State High School winning numerous awards and even breaking her sister Naomi’s career kills record. However, after a solid freshmen season at Kansas, she knew she needed something different. She just wasn’t sure what different looked like.

“I didn’t know much about Northern Colorado before I entered the transfer portal,” said Hickman. “Almost immediately, Lyndsey [Oates] reached out and encouraged me to come visit campus.”

From that moment on, the wheels were firmly in motion.

“What I was really looking for was a group of girls and a coaching staff that meshed well and worked together well,” Hickman explained. “From day one, I saw that at UNC and it became a big appeal for me.”

“We didn’t know about Rachel during her high school recruiting process,” said head coach Lyndsey Oates. “We learned about her through the transfer portal and then asking her coaches. It became apparent that she just needed a different fit and was looking to expand her wings and go further from home. It has been a great transition.”

While Hickman agreed to make the transition to Greeley at the end of 2019, a global pandemic delayed her debut in the Blue and Gold. 

“It was definitely a weird year,” said Hickman. “We really had to come together to get through some difficult circumstances. I think in a way it almost helped me a little because I had a year and a half of getting to know the girls and playing with the team before even stepping on the court for my first match.”

Hickman didn’t take long to make an instant impact on the Bears’ roster.

Following an eight-kill performance in her UNC debut, the left-handed outside hitter delivered a match-high 17 kills, avenging an earlier loss to Montana State, 3-0.

“When she first transferred to UNC in January 2020 we only had a few team practices before we were shut down for COVID,” said Oates. We weren’t sure how she would fit into the line-up until we came back for the fall off-season.

“We knew she had all of the tools, but we had good competition at that spot. She developed over the season into a very efficient attacker that was difficult for opponents to stop.”

Hickman turned heads at every stop last spring. Among her many accolades in her first season as a Bear, which included a Big Sky Tournament Record for a single-match hitting percentage (.846), Hickman also took home All-Conference Second Team Honors and was awarded Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.

“It was super exciting to get that award,” Hickman said. “It wasn’t something that I was expecting but I felt like the whole team had worked really hard and I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish those things without my teammates.”

As UNC sets its sights on a sixth trip to the NCAA Tournament, you can bet that Rachel Hickman will be squarely in the middle of every fight.

“I put a lot of expectations on myself and try my best to live up to them,” said Hickman. “I’m really excited about the upcoming season. Even though we lost some really important people, we have a fantastic group returning and some incredible newcomers. I can’t wait to see what we can do this fall.” 

—Thomas Hoffman