Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 18, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 48 of 55 SEPT. 18, 2021 49 ND SPORTS BY TODD D. BURLAGE C harley Niego wasn't about to pass up the perfect opportu- nity to provide her mother, Therese Boyle-Niego, a unique surprise and tribute that few daughters would ever get the chance to deliver. Therese was a gifted volleyball player at Mother McCauley High School in Chicago through the late 1970s and early 1980s, so gifted in fact, she led the Mighty Macs to two Illinois state titles, went on to win a NCAA championship with Pa- cific in 1985, and eventually had her No. 5 jersey retired back at the high school — well, sort of. Fast forward a generation and about 20 years and you'll find history repeat- ing itself as Charley, now a star senior outside hitter at Notre Dame, also led Mother McCauley to a state title in 2016 and like her mother, became one of the best players in the program's proud history. Leading up to the day Charley made her varsity high school debut as a soph- omore in 2015, an idea was hatched to bring Therese's No. 5 jersey out of re- tirement for Charley to wear for the rest of her Mother McCauley career. "It was kind of a no-brainer when they asked me about it," said Charley, who had always wore the No. 5 after her mother while playing before high school. "The hardest part was keeping this a secret from mom." The plan held together. "It was very touching," Therese recalled of walking into the gym for Charley's first varsity game and seeing her old num- ber on her eldest daughter. "It was very heartfelt and very nice that McCauley had thought about doing that. And, of course, I was the last to know, as usual." A three-year starter for the Mighty Macs, Charley as a junior helped lead her team to a state title and a high school national championship, and herself to Il- linois Gatorade Player of the Year honors. Keeping it all in the family, Charley's younger sister Grace also finished her volleyball career at Mother McCauley wearing No. 5, before the number was re-retired again. "This time for good, I think," Therese joked. "Well, unless their daughters play there, you never know." Mother McCauley went a combined 106-14 in Charley's three varsity sea- sons. She recorded 1,279 kills, 1,109 digs, 805 service points, 190 blocks and 94 aces to become one of the top re- cruits in the country, an Under Armour First Team All-American and a member of the U.S. National Team. The accolades haven't stopped since for this powerful 6-foot outside hitter. Playing in her fourth season at Notre Dame, Charley already earned All-ACC Freshman honors in 2018, first-team All-ACC honors as both a sophomore in 2019 and as a junior last season, and she entered this season as a 2021 preseason All-ACC selection. All of the awards and honors may mean something to Charley someday. But for now, her focus remains on team goals and building from a successful 2020 sea- son when the Irish finished 15-4 overall, won an NCAA Tournament game, and narrowly missed an ACC title with a 13-3 conference record and a second-place finish to powerhouse Louisville. "The motivation is knowing that we are up there with some of the top teams," Charley said. Charley has started in nearly every game at Notre Dame since her ar- rival. But now with a fifth year of eligibility open for 2022 because of the pandemic, she has a decision to make on whether to use it at Notre Dame or somewhere else. Wanting to keep all options open, Charley has entered her name into the NCAA transfer portal, not be- cause of anything disappointing or negative at Notre Dame, but instead, so she can talk to other schools to thoroughly weigh her graduate study options. "I am definitely looking to do a fifth year somewhere," she said. Whether it's after this school year or next, when Charley does leave Notre Dame, she will have ce- mented her place as one of the best volleyball players in program his- tory, on and off the court. "The most important thing I want to be remembered for is just being a good person and a good teammate to every- one," Charley said. "After that, I also want to be remembered as a player who helped change the culture at Notre Dame and helped make Notre Dame volleyball what it is today and in the future." ✦ Volleyball's Charley Niego And Her Mother Have Special Bond Niego, a two-time first-team All-ACC selection at outside hitter, is focused on team goals in 2021, looking to build upon Notre Dame's second-place finish in the ACC and its NCAA Tournament appearance last spring. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS IRISH ROUNDUP CROSS COUNTRY The men notched a first-pace finish, while the women came in second at the Winrow- Valparaiso Open Sept. 3 in Valparaiso, Ind. … The Irish will next compete in the National Catholic Championship Sept. 17 in South Bend. MEN'S SOCCER (1-2-0) Notre Dame was edged 1-0 at Kentucky Sept. 3 … The Irish play their ACC opener at Boston College Sept. 10. WOMEN'S SOCCER (5-1-1) The Irish suffered their first loss of the sea- son at Missouri Sept. 5, falling 3-2 in overtime … Notre Dame began a three-game homes- tand with an 8-0 win over Detroit Sept. 9. VOLLEYBALL (2-4) Notre Dame went 0-3 in the Shamrock Invita- tional Sept. 3-5 in South Bend, losing to Bowling Green (3-0), Cincinnati (3-1) and Milwaukee (3-1) … The Irish head to Austin, Texas, to take on Arizona Sept. 11 and No. 1 Texas Sept. 12. — Steve Downey

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