John Nicolais is the associate head coach on the Youngstown State University women's basketball staff under head coach John Barnes. He completed his fifth year as a Penguin in 2017-18 and was promoted to his current position in September 2018.
At Youngstown State, Nicolais (pronounced NICK-oh-lay) is in charge of game scheduling, assisting with post player development, game preparation and opponent scouting. He also serves as a liaison to the strength and conditioning coach, oversees the male practice squad and is active in the recruiting process.
The Penguins have enjoyed an impressive stretch of success since Nicolais arrived on campus with Barnes in 2013. Youngstown State has played in a postseason tournament three times in their tenure, and it has also been on the WBCA Top 25 Academic Honor Roll four times.
YSU won 21 games and advanced to a postseason tournament in consecutive years for the first time in school history in 2014-15 and 2015-16. In 2016, the Penguins reached the semifinals of the WBI (Women's Basketball Invitational). YSU played host to a Women’s NIT contest in 2015, and it made a late-season charge in 2017-18 to return to the WBI.
Youngstown State’s posts have been a key part of the Penguins’ success since Nicolais arrived on campus. In fact, YSU has had a post player earn Horizon League honors in nine straight campaigns. Nicolais has coached First-Team All-Horizon League forward Heidi Schlegel (2013-14, 2014-15), Second-Team All-Horizon League honoree Sarah Cash (2015-16) and Horizon League Freshman of the Year Mary Dunn (2016-17). Dunn went on to be named Academic All-Horizon League in 2017-18.
Cash and Dunn both played big roles in 2017-18 as the Penguins won nine of their final 11 games of the regular season to become postseason eligible. Cash led the squad with 11.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, and she became the 20th player in program history to score 1,000 points. Dunn ranked third in the Horizon League with a .547 field-goal percentage, and she led the squad with 27 blocks.
Dunn led all Horizon League freshmen in scoring and field-goal percentage as she was named the conference’s top freshman in 2017-18. She averaged 11.3 points and 3.9 rebounds while leading the team with 19 blocks, a .514 field-goal percentage and 53 free throws.
In 2015-16, Nicolais helped Cash have a breakthrough season as a sophomore while senior Janae Jackson had the best year of her YSU career. Cash, who scored 98 points and grabbed 62 rebounds as a freshman, finished with 479 points and 242 rebounds in her second campaign with the program. She averaged a team-best 14.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and was a second-team All-Horizon League honoree. She ranked in the top 10 in the Horizon League in points, rebounds and blocks per game and ranked fourth in the country in field-goal percentage. Jackson scored 271 points and grabbed 181 rebounds in her final campaign. The year before she had 83 points and 54 boards.
In his second year with program, the Penguins reached the WNIT for just the second time in the program's history. YSU won 21 games in 2014-15 and were 10-0 for the first time at the Division I level. Among the individual highlights, Schlegel was named First-Team All-Horizon League for the second straight season. Schlegel finished her career with 1,729 points, the fourth-most in program history, and 796 rebounds, the seventh-most program history. She became YSU's all-time leader in career free throws made, and she signed a contract to play professionally in Germany. Fifth-year senior Latisha Walker set career highs with 10.4 points and 7.4 rebounds and ranked in the top three in the conference in free-throw percentage, blocks and field-goal percentage.
In the staff's first season in 2013-14, the Penguins overachieved to finish third in the Horizon League and advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament. Individually, Schlegel more-than-doubled her previous career high in scoring and earned First-Team All-Horizon League honors. She averaged 20 points and eight rebounds, set a new school record for made free throws and scored 621 points, the fifth-most for a season in school history.
Nicolais came to Youngstown as a highly-respected assistant at the Division II level over the previous 10 years. He helped Drury University to 101 wins over a five-year span, and he spent five years at Glenville State when the Lady Pioneers went 145-22. Nicolais' teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament nine times in his 10 seasons.
Nicolais was responsible for working with the Drury perimeter players and coached two All-American's and a squad that was consistently among the best in 3-point shooting percentage. Katie Pritchard led Division II in 3-point field goal percentage in 2009-10 and 2010-11, and teammate and All-American Lindsay Ballweg was second in the country in 3-point shooting in 2009-10.
Nicolais also helped with monitoring academic progress at Drury, and the Lady Panthers had the nation's top grade-point average in 2011-12 regardless of division with a 3.709. They had a 3.591 GPA in 2010-11, which was third in Division II.
Drury, located in Springfield, Mo., was 19-10 and went to the NCAA Tournament in Nicolais' first season on the bench in 2008-09. The Lady Panthers then went 28-7 while winning the Great Lakes Valley Conference and advanced to the Sweet 16 the following season. Drury won the GLVC West Division title and finished with 20 wins in each of the next two seasons. The Lady Panthers went 14-13 in 2012-13.
At Glenville State in West Virginia, Nicolais worked directly with two All-Americans and GSC's all-time leading scorer as the perimeter coach. The Lady Pioneers were 33-3 in 2006-07, 30-3 in 2005-06, 24-8 in 2004-05, and 29-4 in both 2003-04 and 2002-03. Glenville State went 84-6 in West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contests in Nicolais' five years while winning conference championships in 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
Prior to joining Glenville State, Nicolais was an assistant coach at Gilmer County High School in Glenville, W.Va. His team in 2001 advanced to the state title game. Nicolais also served as head volleyball coach at Gilmer from 2000-03 and led his squad to a 115-47 record. The Titans advanced to the state semifinals in 2001 and 2003, and his 2003 squad won the West Virginia Class A State Championship with a 45-7 record. For his efforts, he was recognized as the West Virginia Coaches Association Region II Coach of the Year.
Nicolais is a native of Elizabeth, W.Va. His wife Carrie, an occupational therapist, and he reside in Canfield, Ohio, with their daughter, Harper.
2013-Present — Youngstown State Assistant Coach
2008-13 — Drury Assistant Coach
2003-08 — Glenville State Assistant Coach