College Career ‘Best Thing’ Nelson Has Experienced So Far
By Mason Kelley
The past four years have gone by so fast for Kaleigh Nelson there are times she still feels like a freshman.
As the senior outside hitter prepares for her final appearance in the NCAA volleyball championships, she finds herself wrestling with how quickly a college career goes from start to finish.
“It seems really strange,” she said. “I feel like the last four years have gone by so quick. At the same time, I’m also really excited. For Krista and I, it’s our last opportunity to make a run at this thing and I think we have a really good shot this year.”
Standing in a hallway just outside the main floor inside Alaska Airlines Arena, Nelson talked about Washington’s first-round matchup with New Hampshire and a potential run that could lead all the way to the Final Four and beyond.
“How cool would it be your senior year to win the national title?” she asked.
So, as she prepares for tonight’s match, she is fueled by a desire to help the Huskies make the most of every match they have left.
“We have all the necessary tools right now,” Nelson said. “It’s just going to take being focused the whole time, being on task and taking it one play at a time.”
Nelson’s success – she was named to the All-Pac 12 team for the second straight year – is a testament to determination.
“She has the biggest heart on the team,” teammate Krista Vansant said. “She works ridiculously hard. She’s out there after practice almost every single day. She’s always the last one out of the gym.”
After a freshman year spent trying to figure out where she fit, Nelson, “figured out a lot about myself” before her second season.
“I figured out how to train differently and I kind of kicked it into gear a lot more,” she said.
Nelson has been a key contributor ever since.
“I’m so happy for her that she’s gotten a return for all her hard work,” Vansant said.
As Nelson was pushed out of her comfort zone, she thrived. She embraced new experiences with teammates she now considers family.
“At times it was hard, but for the most part it was probably the best thing in my life so far,” Nelson said.
So here she is, four years later, facing as many as six more matches in her college career.
“We want the whole thing,” Nelson said. “We’re not thinking, let’s see how far of a run we can make. We’re thinking, these next six matches. That’s our test right now.”
As an added bonus, Nelson and the Huskies get a home-floor advantage to open the tournament.
“I was so pumped when I found out we were hosting regionals,” she said. “We have the best fans and the fact that we get to play potentially four more home games with our fans is big time. Not a lot of teams get to do that.”
It would be easy for the Huskies, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, to look deeper into the tournament, but they got caught looking ahead in last year’s Final Four against Penn State.
She is determined to avoid a similar fate in her final season.
“We learned last year that when you look ahead it comes back to bite you,” she said. “It was hard to go out that way. We were thinking about that. We don’t want that feeling again. We don’t want to be that team that gets so close, but doesn’t quite make it. It’s hard, because there’s only one team that doesn’t have a feeling of disappointment at the end of the season.
“We know that, if we want to get to the end, we need to put all of our energy and all of our focus into each match.”
Nelson officially becomes a graduate of the university next week. But she is so focused on keeping her attention centered on each match she has yet to spend much time thinking about what comes next.
“After next Wednesday, I’m officially a UW alum,” she said. “It’s definitely been going through my head that these are my last few weeks at UW.”
She wants to keep playing, but that will come later. She has a tournament to play.
“Things will fall where they will in the end,” Nelson said. “Things have a way of working themselves out.”
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