Sept. 22, 2011
» Huskies Look To Stay Hot In Desert
The addition of Kaleigh Nelson to the Washington program was announced back in November of 2009. The Salem, Oregon native then had to wait until August 26 of this fall to get on the court as a Husky at long last. Nelson, an athletic outside hitter with a serious arm, learned last year that she would need to make up a few classes before she could officially enroll, and that she would have to miss the 2010 season. But Nelson never wavered in her commitment and arrived in the winter, in time to go through the spring practice season with the team. Now the freshman is making an impact for the fourth-ranked Huskies, having appeared in seven matches thus far and recording 11 kills. She talked to GoHuskies.com this week about the payoff after the long wait, developing her all-around game, and the power of numbers.
GoHuskies.com: Talk about how the first couple of weeks have gone for you - you've had a lot of early playing time. What was the feeling like of getting into your first match?
Kaleigh Nelson: At first, I was terrified. I was so nervous when we were at Long Beach and I was just shaking. When I went back to serve, the ball was probably shaking. But as it progressed, when we went to Spokane and I went in, it got easier and easier. Now the nerves are gone and it's just really exciting to be in and it's really cool that (Coach McLaughlin) trusts me enough to put me in as a freshman. That's definitely really exciting.
GH: Last weekend you got your first Pac-12 action against USC - it seemed like the whole team was a little off that night before turning it around on Saturday. What do you think was the biggest difference between those two matches?
KN: When we played USC, the only reason that we didn't do so well was that I think we lost to ourselves. I think it was because of the errors that we made. I don't think they had a great night either. We just didn't do what we were supposed to do. Obviously, our numbers weren't as good as usual. Against UCLA, we served well and passed really well. Our numbers were better and we won the game. Usually the game is won by serve and pass, that's what Jim always says.
GH: What are some of the strengths of your game and what are some of the things you're working on specifically so far this season?
KN: The thing that I'm working most definitely is passing. I've been working on it ever since I got here last winter and it's slowly been getting better, but it's still not where it needs to be. Then as a strength, I can hit the ball pretty well (laughs), but hitting isn't anything unless you can pass the ball.
GH: If Jim calls you off the bench, like he did against USC, is there anything he's looking for you to bring specifically or does he give you any special instructions?
KN: He just told me to make a difference - to go out there and try my best to make a difference. Obviously what was happening wasn't working. I went in but obviously didn't do what I was supposed to do. (laughs)
GH: From the time you committed to the time you got to play your first match must have seemed like a long time. Did you about that at all when you first got on the court?
KN: I had been thinking about that a lot, especially since I didn't get to come last fall. I committed my junior year and I always thought I was going to come fall of 2010, and then I didn't get to come, and that was heartbreaking. So I had to wait another whole year, so I thought I've been anticipating this moment for a very long time.
GH: When you realized you'd have to wait another year, did you consider any other options or schools or were you set on hanging in there and coming to UW the next season?
KN: When I wasn't allowed to come in the fall, it just lit a fire and motivated me to work that much harder to make my dream come true. UW has always been my number one choice, it still was, and I wasn't going to give it up for anything.
GH: Do you think that that will benefit you in the long run and will let you work extra harder?
KN: I think so. It taught me a valuable lesson and I think it happened for a reason. It was supposed to be that way for me to learn the things I needed to become a better player and a better person.
GH: How hard was it to watch last season and not be part of it?
KN: When I went to the Oregon game, it was so hard. But, I mean, it just kept motivating me to do that much better. When I saw them on the court, I so badly wanted to be there.
GH: You and Gabbi (Parker) are both from Oregon. Did you know each other well in high school, or were you on recruiting trips together?
KN: Yeah, we went on our official visit together and that was really the first time that I actually hung out with her and got to know her. But I've known her since my sophomore year of high school because we've always played against each other in club, so I kind of knew her coming in. Then as this process started, I just got closer and closer with her and now she's my best friend - we spend a lot of time together.
GH: Talk a little bit about what you're enjoying most so far about being a Husky and a Pac-12 volleyball player.
KN: Oh, there are a lot of perks. The thing I love most about this team is that we're all a family. I feel like I gained fourteen other sisters when I got here. Everyone is incredibly welcoming, and accepting. It's just really nice to have that kind of support behind you.
GH: You've got a couple other freshman outside hitters (Krista Vansant and Summer Ross) that are going through a lot of the same learning experiences as you. Does that help you out at all?
KN: Yeah, definitely. It helps because I know everyone's in similar spots as me and we're all working as hard as we can to get that much better every day. Every practice, it's a battle out there and we're all working together and all working really, really hard. It's nice to know you have everyone there pulling towards the same thing.
GH: Classes are starting up now in just a few days. What classes are you taking in the fall?
KN: I'm taking a psych class and then I'm taking a class online - environmental science, because I thought an online class would be beneficial since we're traveling a lot and we'd have to do homework on the road. And then I'm taking a class that teaches me how to study (laughs) - a general studies class.
GH: Have you thought much about what you want to major in?
KN: I was always thinking I wanted to major in math because I love math - it's the one subject that I've always excelled in throughout my education. But math here is pretty tough (laughs). But I know I want to do that and I want to teach, but education isn't offered here as a major, so I'll have to find other ways of pursuing that.
GH: As someone who enjoys math, was that part of the appeal of coming here, since the coaches rely on statistics a lot in practice?
KN: Yeah I really like the way he stats all the practices and the way he uses all the numbers so he can tell us why things are happening; why the other team won and why we lost; why this person is starting and why you're not starting - because their number was better than yours. To me, that makes sense. I love the numbers because then I'll understand why I'm potentially not on the court - it's because someone's numbers are better than mine. It makes you work that much harder to get your numbers up so you can be on the court out there helping your team.
GH: Away from the court and the classroom, what are some of your hobbies, or what do you like to watch?
KN: One of my favorite shows is Greys Anatomy, which starts up again soon. I like to read books - Nicholas Sparks. I'm kind of a hopeless romantic (laughs). During the winter time, I usually snowboard a lot, although now that I'm here, that probably won't happen very often. I probably have to say goodbye to that for a while.
GH: You were also a high jumper on the track team in high school. Is that something you'd think about trying again this spring? Showing off your vertical?
KN: I don't know. It'd be cool if they ask me, but I feel like my numbers probably weren't up to the collegiate level. I definitely wanted to do something different and wanted a change of pace and it was nice and really fun.
GH: Thanks for chatting, Kaleigh, and good luck this week in Arizona.
KN: Thank you!