PANTHER OF THE WEEK: Nelson proving to be volleyball leader
By Lance Catchings
After back-to-back appearances at the state volleyball tournament Ashley Nelson knew her junior year would be an exciting one. She just didn’t know when or where the surprises would come from. Last year as a rotational player she knew she had some experience headed into the season but there was no way she could have predicted how much her team would rely on her this early in the season.
After losing two starters to injury last weekend Nelson found herself as one of the most experienced players on the court. Head coach Gretchen Peterson has known Nelson for many years and said she could not have picked a better time to step up to the challenge of leading a young team.
“Ashley was a role player last year that came in and ended up being a starter all the way around as a sophomore,” Peterson said.
“She and Emily Huppee both have had to take over leadership on the court with Ella (Shipper) being out. Her attitude and approach to that has been very mature and she has matured a lot as an athlete and player. It has been nice to have her on the court and they have done a good job being vocal in a positive way.”
Despite her team getting off to a little slower start than past seasons Nelson is excited and upbeat about the team’s progress.
“The Round Rock Westwood Tournament was a great learning experience for our team,” Nelson said.
“We had two of our starters out and it showed that we have ability we just need to get back and work on some things. I am the only returner that is playing right now because of some injuries and we also have some players that are new to our school. Last year we had girls that would take the leadership roles for us because they were seniors and now we are stepping up and taking on those roles, so I am excited for this year.”
Filling roles is something that all teams are working to do this early in the season and Nelson is proud to have her teammates depend on her.
“This year we are learning a lot more because we are a much younger team,” she said.
“I believe the more we play we will overcome obstacles that come our way and have a great season. Coach Peterson is leaning on me a little bit more right now. I was young last year but I have learned a lot since then. Being a leader means being there for other people and trying to be there for your teammates on the court.”
Nelson is cherishing every moment she gets on the court. She grew up watching the Lady Panthers and one day wanting to be in this position.
“I started attending coach Peterson’s volleyball camps when I was in sixth grade, but I feel like I have known her my whole life,” she said.
“She coached my older sister, so I grew up around this program.”
She is looking forward to gelling with her teammates as they continue to build on the court relationships.
“It is better for us to do the learning we need to early in the season rather than later,” she said.
“We are still learning and improving on running sets. We are still working on chemistry with our setters because they are new. There are things we need to work on and then everything will be fine.”
Nelson enjoys playing on the outside and being a vocal leader on the court.
“Playing outside on the front row is one of my favorite things but I also enjoy playing on the back row,” she said.
“Playing back row gives me the opportunity to communicate on where to hit and things like that. Our communication could be better, and it will be the more we play with each other. We are learning how each other plays right now and what works best for this team. What is important is that we are having fun out there on the court.”
At the end of the day what is most important to her is playing the game she loves with her friends.
“I love playing volleyball because you make such good friendships with your teammates,” she said.
“On and off the court you get to have fun and hang out with people who love what you love.”
Nelson and her teammates travel to Bastrop this weekend for a tournament and are sure to gain more experience on the court while bonding through it all.