Nickie Sanlin was named to build the McKendree University men's volleyball program from stratch in the spring of 2013. The Bearcats first took the court in January 2014 and in 2015 became full members of the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA), one of the top NCAA Division I-II conferences in the nation.
In its inaugural season in 2014, Sanlin led the Bearcats to eight victories playing an independent schedule while using an all-freshman roster in the process. McKendree won its first match on Jan. 26 against Dominican University, and later reeled off a four-match winning streak in the middle stages of the campaign.
The experience gained in 2014 was valuable as McKendree joined the MIVA for the 2015 season. The Bearcats boosted their win total to 11 in their sophomore season, going 11-19 overall. McKendree took on some of the best programs in the nation in MIVA play, and gained their first-ever league win in a four-set triumph at home against IPFW on Feb. 28. Freshman opposited Jared Wilcox, who helped fuel the Bearcats' win against IPFW, became the first McKendree men's volleyball player to earn MIVA Offensive Player of the Week honors along with National Freshman of the Week accolades from Off the Block, a publication dedicated to the coverage of men's collegiate volleyball.
The men’s team continued to thrive in year three as the Bearcats reached the MIVA Tournament after finishing sixth in the regular season standings and upset Ball State University in the first round, who ranked 11th in the nation. McKendree fell in the semifinal round to the Buckeyes of Ohio State, who went on to claim their second national title in the past five years.
In July of 2016 Sanlin was selected to be a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Diversity Development Team which supports the initiatives of leadership and advancement for aspiring ethnic minority coaches through the NCAA Matching Diversity Grant Program. As one of eight members Sanlin is tasked with the development of programming and the awarding of the annual AVCA Minority Coaches Award.
Sanlin first joined the McKendree family as an assistant coach prior for the women's volleyball program prior to the 2012 season. In the midst of her third season as the Bearcats' top assistant, Sanlin was named as the head coach for the Bearcats' women's volleyball squad in late October of 2014.
Although she was at the helm for only 12 matches at the conclusion of the 2014 campaign, Sanlin helped lead McKendree on a memorable run down the stretch. The Bearcats closed the regular season with an 11-7 record in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and earned their first-ever bid to the GLVC Tournament. At the eight-team, single-elimination tournament held in East Peoria, Ill., McKendree defeated higher-ranked foes in Rockhurst University and the University of Indianapolis to gain a spot in the GLVC Tournament championship match. The Bearcats gave top-seeded Truman State University all they could handle before dropping a five-set thriller in the title contest.
Thanks to their late-season run and showing in the GLVC Tournament, McKendree enjoyed another first by grabbing a spot in the NCAA Tournament as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region. The Bearcats' magical run in the 2014 season came to an end against Truman State in the regional quarterfinals, but McKendree finished the year by going 20-14 for its first 20-win season since 2010.
Along the way, freshman outside hitter Arela Williams and sophomore middle hitter Sophie Fairman were recognized for their play throughout the year. Prior to the conference tournament, Williams was named the GLVC Freshman of the Year as well as second-team All-League honors. She later collected Midwest Region Freshman of the Year mention from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
Fairman joined Williams as a second-team All-GLVC selection for her play at the net for the Bearcats.
In her second season as head coach the Bearcats sustained that success with a 15-3 record in conference play to earn a share of the GLVC East Division and the top seed in the GLVC Tournament. Williams thrived under Sanlin as a sophomore earning national praise while leading the team in both kills and digs. As a six rotation player, Williams took home GLVC Player of the Year honors, as well as an AVCA DII All-American Honorable Mention nod, AVCA and D2CCA All-Midwest Region First Team, and First Team All-GLVC.
Sanlin is no stranger to the world of men’s volleyball. For three years, Sanlin has coached boy’s club volleyball programs in the St. Louis metro area. She currently serves as a coach for the St. Louis Performance volleyball program. Sanlin has also been a coach for the USA High Performance program, which is a part of Team USA Volleyball.
In addition to her club experience, Sanlin served as the boy’s head volleyball coach at Althoff Catholic High School in 2011 and 2012. Sanlin is also a member of the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Advisory Committee for boy’s volleyball.
As a player, Sanlin starred at Marshall University. She was a three-year starter during her career at Marshall, helping the Thundering Herd to a Conference USA title as a senior in 2005. Sanlin registered 245 kills and 84 blocks on her way to second-team All-Conference honors during her senior season. Sanlin also earned All-Tournament honors in leading Marshall to three straight wins on their way to the Conference USA Tournament championship.