SWAC Blocker of the Year Niara Hightower is a Towering Triumph

Niara Hightower is a Towering Triumph

In the vibrant realm of Bethune-Cookman University's (B-CU) athletic prowess, one name echoes with resounding triumph - Niara Hightower, the 2023 Southwestern Athletic Conference Blocker of the Year. As a rising junior majoring in Business Administration, Hightower's journey is a testament to B-CU's commitment to excellence.

Hightower's story begins far from the courts, with a surprising twist. Growing up, she had no interest in sports. She had cheered and taken dance lessons, but it was not until her middle school orientation that sports became a viable option.

"Many coaches stopped me in the halls saying, 'You’re going to play for me,'" Hightower recalls. 

After joining a club volleyball team in eighth grade, Hightower never looked back. She played basketball and volleyball until she graduated high school, deciding in the tenth grade that volleyball would be her main focus.

SWAC Blocker of the Year

Bethune-Cookman's inaugural year in the SWAC conference coincided with Hightower's freshman year, a synchronicity that laid the foundation for a remarkable partnership. Marked by 38 kills and 33 blocks during the season, in true Hightower fashion, she topped her stats the next year with 82 kills, 53 blocks, and marked some of her career bests.

Fast forward to 2023; Hightower, now a junior at Bethune-Cookman University majoring in Business Administration, has just completed her third season with the Cookman Women’s Volleyball team. Her stellar career has culminated in her being crowned Bethune-Cookman University's first SWAC Blocker of the Year. Her 107 blocks and 114 kills not only secured her a title but elevated the university's standing in the conference.

The honor is far from her first, as she was previously a three-year varsity letter winner in both volleyball and basketball, and her district’s Blocker of the Year, in both her junior and senior volleyball seasons in high school at Hirschi High in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Ahead of the 2023 season, the Lady Wildcats had lost their starting middle blocker, but Head Coach Brittany Williams was not worried.

“We’re still a strong blocking team,” said Williams. “We’ll be stronger with ball control.” 

Hightower's consistency and dominance on the court became the cornerstone of the team’s success. This recognition helps cement her role as a key player in the university's sporting history.

If you want to know her secret, Hightower says the main ingredients are faith in God, love, personal growth, and tradition. While Hightower is taping her fingers before a game, she makes three goals for herself to be completed during the game. When the national anthem comes on, she prays that God will help her to do her best, play aggressively, and most importantly, protect the team from injury, ending the prayer with a kiss to God. 

Finally, Hightower says, “When my name is called for starting line up, I tap my forehead twice and say ‘Beast Mode’ because it is something my mom and I have always done and it is our personal inside thing to prepare for a match.”

SWAC Blocker

Ariel AJ Simmons, Bethune-Cookman’s sophomore middle blocker from Miami, Florida recalls the first time that she saw Hightower. It was during Simmons’ Freshman year, and she remembers the way that Hightower carried herself on campus. 

“She does the same thing on the court,” says Simmons, “No one can tell her anything when she’s in the game, she knows who she is as a player, and this year really showed that, especially defensively.”

Teammates like Madison Coats, a senior setter, and defensive specialist, emphasize Hightower's consistent commitment and infectious energy. Affectionately dubbed the "Tower of Terror," her 6-foot 2-inch stature and defensive prowess have become synonymous with victory for the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

For aspiring Wildcats, Hightower imparts invaluable advice: “If I could give advice to young girls looking to play volleyball, I would say first, it starts in the classroom. Any team would appreciate a player that has academic success. Second, always remember when being on a team or part of a program, you represent something much bigger than yourself. So always carry yourself with respect and pride. Finally, every time you step on the court, give everything that you have, even if you only have a little. It’s like my Coach, Coach B, always says, ‘If you only have 20%, give 100% of that 20%.’ When the game is over, you don’t want to have any regrets about what you could have done and you will never have that game again.” 

And as for Hightower’s advice for the little girl that took up club volleyball, “It’s going to be bumps, bruises, and tears but it will be worth it in the end.”