For new head coach of women’s volleyball Nicki Holmes, it was a strange offseason. 

Holmes was hired in the middle of January, about a-month-and-a-half before campus was unable to reopen due to the pandemic. The first-year coach was a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, where he spent five years as an officer in the Air Force and a later five years in the private sector before finally making the transition to being a full-time volleyball coach. 

“It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision,” he said. “It was something that I had thought about for about 18 months beforehand, so it was something I knew I wanted to do.”

Holmes came over from George Washington University, where he previously was the associate head coach of the team for the last three years. He replaced Steve Santonastaso at URI, who spent 15 years with the Rams program. 

“First of all, I was just honored to be considered for the position,” Holmes said. “Being only the third head coach in program history, I have big shoes to fill.” 

Despite not being on campus to gel with his team much since being hired, Holmes has found other ways to bond with his team. He said they have held Zoom meetings throughout the time away from campus. As a team, Holmes has also had the team read books to bond while away from campus. 

“We’ve read a book called ‘Legacy,’ which is about a New Zealand rugby team, and I’m trying to teach the girls the process at which it takes to win,” he said.

Recruiting also added a slight challenge for Holmes, with three recruits already signing letters of intent to play for Rhode Island before he was hired. The 2020 recruiting class adds some Rhode Island flare with the addition of Haley Sawyer from North Kingstown High School.

“Being a stud and a known commodity in the local volleyball community, Haley will be a welcomed addition to our team. She has a great attitude and excels in her approach to training, both indoor and in the sand. That will serve her well as she starts her collegiate career here at URI,” Holmes told

Sawyer’s mother, Mary, was also a member of the women’s volleyball team at URI. 

“Haley brings a Rhode Island volleyball pedigree to our program and it’s great,” Holmes said. 

According to Holmes, he hopes that through the course of the season, his team can improve a little bit each day.“My goal is to take a big rock and chip away at that rock a little bit everyday so we’re as good as we can be,” he said. “If we can just get one percent better everyday, we’ll be in a good position to succeed.”