Nelson’s impact is felt in Minnesota

Jeff Barthel

Minnesota doesn’t normally like to ask for assistance from its neighbor, Wisconsin. But for Minnesota’s volleyball team, perhaps it will let the pride slip in the case of first-year middle blocker Meredith Nelson.

The 6-foot-3-inch recruit from St. Croix Falls, Wis., had a solid home debut last weekend, participating in the Nike Invitational. Nelson recorded 26 kills and 13 blocks, aiding Minnesota to winning two of three matches.

“Meredith is a very poised young lady,” coach Mike Hebert said. “We are pleased to have her.”

Despite her early season success for the Gophers, Nelson – the only Wisconsin native on the team – was not thinking about volleyball when she entered high school.

“My whole volleyball career has been kind of strange,” Nelson said

At her high school, Nelson took an interest in the school’s new golf team, a fall sport. But she was convinced otherwise when the varsity volleyball coach talked to her.

“My coach said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think you should go out for golfing,’ ” Nelson explained. “Then when I started playing club volleyball, that’s when I started realizing what I wanted to do for the future.”

Choosing volleyball has paid off.

Along with being All-Conference in basketball and softball in high school, Nelson was a member of the volleyball All-State team her senior season and was the team’s MVP all four years. This past summer, she trained with the A-2 U.S. National Team and was an Amateur Athletic Union All-America selection in 2002.

After last season, www.prepvolleyball.com listed Nelson as the 10th-best senior in the nation.

Minnesota hopes this success will continue and that she will be able to step in at her frontcourt position of middle blocker. This is particularly important because two middle blockers unexpectedly departed from last year’s team, in-starter Bethany Brafford and Maggie Freiborg.

“I was expecting to have Maggie and Bethany with me,” Nelson said.

Although losing the two players, Hebert is pleased to have Nelson on the team.

“Meredith is one of the fastest-improving middle hitters in the conference,” Hebert said. “(And) she’s got much room to grow.”

In addition to volleyball, Nelson is gifted academically. She was a member of the National Honors Society in high school – something Hebert hopes continues into college.

“Off the court, expect her to do very well academically,” Hebert said. “(I also) expect her be a part of leadership to our program.”

Nelson is still trying to find her niche.

Through Minnesota’s first six matches, Nelson has 43 kills and is hitting .219. But she knows the situation she’s in: helping in picking up slack for Brafford and Freiborg’s absence.

“I’m very fortunate,” Nelson said of receiving playing time. “Mike has told me I’m going to have a bigger role now.”

Whether she’s a native of Minnesota or not.