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Lady Flames Feature: Taking Care of Business
After bouncing back from a nasty leg injury that sidelined her for the entire 2006 season, redshirt junior Jessica Nelson is back with a new jersey and a new perspective on the game of volleyball.
This season, Nelson traded in her number 13 jersey for the number 14. "I just wanted a fresh start," said the redshirt junior. She is indeed off to a fresh start. Number 14 posted 39 kills and 47 digs in her first weekend of play since her injury, helping the Lady Flames win a pair of matches at the Liberty Invitational Presented by Pepsi.
Nelson's newfound energy on the court stems from the unique perspective she gained from the sidelines last season. "Watching from the bench, you see a lot that goes on that you don't recognize when you are on the court--when a ball really needs to be put away, when a match needs to be flipped and when you need to make a play," the starting outside hitter said. "There are a lot of little details. I was doing stats on the bench, and you see how all the little details add up throughout the game to produce the final outcome.
"In hindsight, I think it was beneficial to me to sit and watch for a year. It makes you want to be out there more," she added.
Not that Nelson ever lacked tenacity for the game. As a freshman, Nelson was so eager to contribute to the team, she sought out head coach Shane Pinder. "I went into his office and I was like 'I just wanna play, Coach. I just wanna play' and he just really helped me to keep improving," she recalled. "He switched me to outside. That's where I ended up getting more playing time."
It's a switch Pinder has not regretted. After moving to the outside her sophomore year, Nelson tallied a team-high 393 kills, a figure which ranked fifth in the Big South. She has excelled at the position, despite standing only 5-9, due to her exceptional athleticism. "Jess is a really athletic kid and she is just explosive," Pinder said.
Nelson is a key player on defense for the Lady Flames as well. In 2005, Nelson posted the second-most digs (313) on the Liberty roster. She was also second on the squad with her 47 digs during the season-opening Liberty Invitational Presented by Pepsi. Liberty's primary option for serve reception, Nelson received 104 serves during the opening weekend without committing a single reception error.
"I think I can play a lot better defense than I could my freshman year," Nelson admitted. "I was very hesitant to release and touch a ball back then. I just didn't know how to read hitters as well. Now, I can anticipate where they are going a lot of the time. I can still get better, but I've come a long way."
It's no surprise Nelson has excelled in athletics; it's in her blood. Her father, John, played basketball for Tennessee Temple University, and both of Nelson's older sisters played college volleyball. "My siblings really influenced me to play sports. I wanted to be like them," the youngest of the Nelson brood said. "We are all really close."
Coming from a close-knit family, Nelson hopes to one day start a family of her own. "I really do want to be a mother and have a family," the junior stated. But for now, she is busy pursuing her degree in family and child development and her psychology minor with the same aggressiveness she brings to the court. Nelson has been named to the Big South Presidential Honor Roll for the past three years.
"Jess truly represents LU as a student-athlete," Pinder said of her efforts in the classroom. "When you've got a kid with her God-given gifts who works as hard or harder than anyone in the program and then add character and integrity, it just doesn't get any better than that."
"I know God wants me to work overseas, at least for a bit of time," explained Nelson of her future ambitions. "I'd love to work with kids in a church or in an orphanage," Nelson, who grew up overseas herself, said of her plans, "I am fine with whatever God wants me to do."
Nelson admits that she is in no rush to leave Liberty though. With two of years eligibility left, she is excited about the possibilities for her team. "We have the potential to be really great," Nelson said. "I want to make the most of this year."
The Lady Flames seem to be doing just that. Off to their best start since 1996, the Liberty netters are doing everything in their power to compete for the Big South title. With the return of Nelson from the sidelines, the senior leadership of Lara Bartolomeo and Mary Alice Pike, the continued development of Kallie Corbin at the setter position and the new influx of youthful talent, Pinder's team has the resources to make it happen. "We would love to win the Big South championship this year, especially since we are hosting the tournament," Nelson said.
"We are trying to hold ourselves to a high standard when we are practicing, so we will play at a high level," Nelson continued. "We are taking everything very seriously. No one is coming in with a lackadaisical attitude. We just need to keep working hard, so we can take care of business."
Jessica Nelson, with her fresh approach to the game and her unwavering commitment to athletic and academic excellence, will be taking care of business all season long as she and her teammates prepare to contend for the Big South title on their home court at the Vines Center, this November.
Written By Mollie Richards
Athletic Media Relations Student Assistant for Volleyball