Senior outside hitter Nicole Rightnowar is having a season to remember for Purdue Fort Wayne volleyball.
The Temperance, Michigan native is re-writing the record books on her way to a career year. And she's doing it all for dad.
For most athletes, the number they wear on their jersey is just that: a number. Maybe for some it's lucky. Some take whatever they can get. But for Nicole Rightnowar, 24 just means more.
"It almost makes me feel like unbreakable, or invincible," Rightnowar said. "Putting that on, I know he has my back, and I know nothing bad is going to happen to me."
Dad and daughter: there is no stronger bond.
"Talking about him makes me smile so much, because he's so much like me, or I'm so much like him. I got a lot of qualities from him, like, we're both very stubborn. We both love to laugh.."
Then there's the athleticism, the competitive nature... Nicole got some of that from her father, too. Before playing division one basketball at the University of Toledo, Rick Rightnowar rocked the number 24 as a standout at Whitmer high school.
"He's just the biggest baller," Nicole said. "He was a phenomenal athlete."
"Greatness, the will to win, no matter what. and just.. the desire to succeed.. that's what I associate (him) with," Ricky Rightnowar, Nicole's brother, said.
Rick's success on the court was mirrored by success off of it. He carved out a prosperous career as a car salesman. He raised three loving children, all of which were star athletes in their own right. He watched as Nicole became an All-Summit League performer as a sophomore and junior at Purdue Fort Wayne.
But on March 9, 2018, just a few months before his daughter's senior season was set to begin, Rick's life was tragically cut short. He was just 48 years old..
"It was heartbreaking," Nicole said." It was almost unreal. I couldn't believe that it was actually happening, and for the first three, four months, I would still pick up my phone to text him. I just didn't believe it."
Nicole thinks of her dad often, but especially when she puts her uniform on. Before the season began, Rightnowar changed her number to 24. And in her dad's honor, she's having her best season yet.
No one in the Summit League has more kills, and with Rightnowar leading the way, the 'Dons are on pace to have their best year since 2013.
"I definitely have thought of him during some of the games," Nicole said. "He was there at my game last year when I got my 1,000th kill. And this year I got my 1,000th dig, so right when I got that, I felt him there. It was a good feeling."
"I would like to think he's proud of me, obviously. I mean, this season has been spectacular, and I just want him to know that I'm doing it for him, and for my teammates obviously. I think this season is really special because I did dedicate this season to him and I am playing so well. So that just means even more to me, that he has the best seat in the house, and he's cheering me on."
With the help of a guardian angel, Rightnowar says her goal is to be named Summit League Player of the Year at the end of the season.