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PIAA VOLLEYBALL: Blue Ridge's Laude having impact heading toward first round

After time away from sports, Nick Laude made a decision that changed the course of his high school athletic career.

In the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted and canceled school and extracurricular activities. Laude had played baseball then as a junior high student.

But upon his return to school, he chose to join the successful boys volleyball program.

As a freshman, he and his classmates made an impact, and Blue Ridge started to build into a powerhouse in the Lackawanna League and District 2 Class 2A. From that point on, Laude developed into a power hitter, a productive second option on the attack next to all-state hitter Connor Cranage, and an emotional lightning rod.

In his four years, Laude has had quite an impact. Blue Ridge won back-to-back Lackawanna League and three straight District 2 Class 2A championships and, in the last two seasons, has a record of 41-2 as it prepares for the PIAA Class 2A first round and a third meeting against District 12's Academy at Palumbo on Tuesday.

"COVID brought me into volleyball, and I couldn't be happier that it did," Laude said. "I was on the baseball team. Once COVID hit, I decided between track and volleyball. The seniors on that team four years ago asked me to play, and I wanted to give. it a shot, and I really enjoyed it."

In his freshman year, when he and this senior class first took to the volleyball court, Laude saw action for a team that finished 11-5 overall in an abbreviated season as athletics and schools worked to co-exist with COVID-19.

As Laude matured physically, he became a much more important piece for the Raiders ascension. In 2021–22, he had 73 kills and 84 serving points. That season, Blue Ridge won its first District 2 title with a 3-0 win over Berwick and advanced to the state quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Palumbo before being eliminated by eventual state champion Lower Dauphin.

"It's been really neat to see him grow as a player," Blue Ridge coach Lori Zick said. "I had a memory come up on my phone recently, and it was a picture of the seniors' sophomore year. Nick doesn't even look like Nick. He underwent a complete transformation. He just became a big difference-maker for us."

The following season, Blue Ridge reeled off 22 straight wins, which included defending its title in District 2 Class 2A, before losing again to eventual state champion Lower Dauphin. Laude, who has an intimidating stare and celebrates his spikes with fierce intensity, had 227 kills and 210 service points and earned All-Region honors.

"That season was a lot of fun," Laude said. "Each day we kept coming in, and we had fun. We cranked some music, but we took it very seriously too."

Blue Ridge returned all of its starters for this spring season. Expectations were high, and Laude became determined and focused. He worked hard.

"When I first started, I was just there to have fun and enjoy myself, and once I saw how good we could be, I got to work," Laude said. "I joined club volleyball and went to camps in New York to develop as much as I could to help this team win and be successful."

Blue Ridge lived up to expectations in a rampage through the Lackawanna League. The Raiders won every match by 3-0 scores, and their dominance did result in reduced individual statistics. But none of the players care about any of that, especially when it came to avenging a late-season loss to Holy Redeemer.

After that defeat, the Raiders stormed past Forest City in the district quarterfinals and defeated Dallas in the semifinals. In the much-anticipated rematch with Holy Redeemer, the Raiders won a second battle of wills, 3-2, and their third straight District 2 Class 2A championship. Laude had nine kills and 12 service points.

"We have all gotten really close," Laude, 17, said. "The first year, we weren't that close because we were coming from different areas and sports, but with volleyball, we became very good friends. We started to hang out more and look at all that we had accomplished."

Laude will graduate from the Career Technology Center at Blue Ridge High School and is headed to Penn College to study electrical construction.

As his volleyball playing days wind to a close, Laude became a leader who helped leave a lasting legacy that he is extremely proud of.

"We have been inspiring people to play volleyball at the school," Laude said. "When our class came in, it was a cool sport, and now it is a championship sport. We have helped build the sport, and we have appreciated the support from our community.

"We just had a great love for the sport."