Iowa volleyball true freshman Nia Washington makes early impact

The outside hitter, who previously committed to Tulane, has appeared in six matches for the Hawkeyes so far this season.


Isabella Cervantes

Iowa outside hitter Nia Washington prepares for North Florida’s serve during a volleyball game between Iowa and North Florida at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Friday, Sept. 16, 2022. Washington had one kill.The Hawkeyes defeated the Ospreys 3-0.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Iowa volleyball true freshman Nia Washington was originally committed to Tulane. But when first-year Hawkeye head coach Jim Barnes took the job at Iowa in December 2021, Washington switched her commitment. 

Now, she’s found some playing time early in her collegiate career.

“Nia is an amazing athlete,” Barnes said. “She’s been lights out in practice … She has a lot of firepower. She’s going to make an impact on this program the next 4 years.”

The New Orleans, Louisiana, native is a three-time state champion for Metairie Park Country Day High School and was selected as the Division V Player of the Year in 2020 and 2021. 

Washington started playing school and club volleyball around 8th grade. She said traveling to different states for tournaments gave her a feel for what higher level volleyball was like. And it gave her lots of exposure, as schools started to recruit her in her first season playing club. 

The outside hitter originally signed on scholarship to play for Tulane in the 2022-23 season. Her mother, Kim Sentmore Washington, played collegiate volleyball at Tulane from 1997-2000. But as Barnes moved on to Iowa, so did Washington.

Washington joined the 2022 Hawkeye squad along with two other Tulane transfers — outside hitter Michelle Urquhart and team captain middle hitter Anna Davis.  

“I knew it was going to be different,” Washington said. “But it’s been a good different. When I got here it was such a warm welcome. I knew that I would thrive in this environment because everyone was supportive and all in … Every day in open gym when the [coaches] weren’t able to come, [my teammates] were giving me pointers from what they learned in the spring so I’d be ready when the coaches came.”

Washington said the change of pace from New Orleans to Iowa City has helped her focus, and her teammates’ support has made her feel more comfortable.

Washington has developed close relationships with team captain middle hitter Amiya Jones and sophomore outside hitter Toyosi Onabanjo.

“Amiya and Toy I can relate to a lot more,” Washington said. “Not just because of the color of our skin, but we have the same background as far as grinding and having that inner beast inside of [us].”

RELATED: Iowa volleyball’s Toyosi Onabanjo increases workload in 2022 season

Onabanjo is confident in Washington’s work ethic and believes she can be an asset throughout her career at Iowa. 

“She’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met in my life,” Onabanjo said. “She’s always pushing herself…I’m so excited to see what she can do.”

Barnes also knows what Washington is capable of doing on the court, as he saw her potential back when he recruited her to Tulane. Barnes said she’ll need to learn quickly as the Hawkeyes will depend on her to be a six-rotation left side hitter — but she has the work ethic to handle it, he said. 

Washington has appeared in six matches this season, recording an average of 1.11 kills per set. While Washington said her goals are getting on the court more and racking up records in the statbooks, she wants to be an inspiration off the court as well.

“I want to leave my mark here,” Washington said. “I want to be the player that not only my teammates look up to but many other young girls look up to and want to be like.”