She calls herself the "grandma" of the team.
UNC graduate outside hitter Charley Niego is North Carolina volleyball's most experienced player. She is exercising her fifth year with the Tar Heels after playing for four years at Notre Dame.
The "grandma" nickname, Niego said, comes from her calm demeanor, consistent play and willingness to help out any of her teammates — whether that be cheering for the Tar Heels on the court or offering them advice off of it. After graduating eight players last season, North Carolina needed a reliable veteran on the court this year, and Niego — a four-time All-ACC selection — has become exactly that.
Before moving to North Carolina, Niego said she had never lived outside of the midwest bubble. She was born and raised in Chicago and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame.
Though her first official visit to Chapel Hill was in January, Niego she was surprised at how green everything was. After hearing the Bell Tower chimes and seeing the bustling energy in the Pit, she knew UNC would be her home away from home.
Niego and the Fighting Irish played UNC annually in ACC play. When they met during Niego’s junior year, the Tar Heels forced the Fighting Irish to five sets in a 3-2 victory — leading Niego and Notre Dame to lose the conference. With 21 kills during the matchup, Niego gained a new appreciation for the Tar Heels’ grit.
“I was very disappointed," Niego said. "But now that I look back at it, I totally get it now. They were training everyone to be able to play anything, anytime and overcoming that adversity.”
Later, in fall 2021, Niego was being recruited by UNC when she played against the Tar Heels. Caught between the two teams, Niego recorded nine kills and four service aces to sweep the Tar Heels, 3-0.
“She always played really well against us,” UNC head coach Joe Sagula said. “I certainly would rather have her playing with us than having to play against her again.”