Sprague Alum is a Force at Washington


It took a fall away from playing volleyball, or even being involved in the sport, for Kaleigh Nelson to realize how much she wants to play the game.

Only now as a senior All-American outside hitter on the University of Washington's volleyball team does Nelson fully realize how beneficial her one year away from playing was at that crucial juncture of her career.

The Sprague High School graduate is one of the top offensive weapons on the No. 4-ranked Huskies (13-0 overall, 2-0 Pac-12), on track to graduate with a degree in sociology in December and more dedicated than ever.

"After I graduate my main goal is to keep playing for as long as possible," said Nelson, who is second on the Huskies with an average of 2.83 kills per set.

Nelson's college career didn't start how she planned.

In the fall of 2010, Nelson – an all-state outside hitter – greyshirted and she took a couple classes at Chemeketa Community College instead of starting her college career at Washington.

That time away from volleyball was exactly what she needed.

It was the first and only time in years she didn't play organized volleyball.

"That was definitely one of the hardest falls," said Nelson, who helped Washington to the Final Four as a junior. "It was really tough, especially being in Salem. I wasn't taking a full 12 credits. I wasn't playing on a team for the first time.

"In the end it definitely benefitted me."

During that lost fall Nelson wanted to stay involved in the game so she contacted her high school coach, Katie Herber, and asked if she could be an assistant coach at Sprague.

Herber, knowing full well Nelson needed to focus on her academics so she could begin her career at Washington, turned her down and encouraged her to focus on her classes.

It worked.

"She's always been capable in the classroom, it was more the motivation wasn't where it needed to be," says Herber, now head coach at West Salem. "I think the time off was a really good one for her because she had to stay away from volleyball.

"I think it gave her that ability to say do I love it as much as I think I love it. She knew she was there for the right reasons."

She enrolled at Washington in January of 2011, and was ecstatic to be on the Seattle campus.

Though she had a jump on some of the girls in her freshman by spending two terms doing off-season conditioning, she felt she was way behind the rest of the team in her play.

She played in 16 sets in 12 total matches that year.

"Gosh, I think as a freshman, even having the two extra quarters that my other teammates didn't have, I think as a freshman I was pretty overwhelmed," she said. "I didn't quite know how to contribute my freshman year."

She found her spot on the team in her sophomore year, averaging 2.42 kills per set, and recording the top attack percentage on her team at .283.

But it was her junior year when she became a star.

She averaged 3.05 kills per set as a junior, was named All-Pac-12 and third-team AVCA All-American.

Washington won the Pac-12 Conference with an 18-2 record, the Huskies went 30-3 overall and reached the Final Four, which was played in Seattle.

"It was incredible," she said. "It was awesome, especially being in Seattle. We had all of our awesome fans there. We had home court, basically. It's definitely a goal to get back there."

The strong conclusion to the 2013 season was a significant accomplishment, and the fast start to this year are promising signs for the Huskies.

But Nelson says the team still has a lot of work to do to get back to that high level.

"Our coach always tell us that last year buys us a half cup of coffee this year," she said. "It's a new season, it's a brand new team. We have different strengths this year."

Nelson plays her final collegiate games in her home state Oct. 10 at Oregon State and Oct. 12 at Oregon.

"It's really cool because I grew up going to those games and watching those players," she said. "I kind of grew up idolizing them. This is my dream. To finally come back and play at OSU and at Oregon, it's really awesome. And then, of course, all my family can come."

Nelson wants more, though.

Winning the Pac-12 again and going far in the postseason would be good things, but she has loftier goals.

"For Kaleigh it just shows you she wasn't just a volleyball player, but she also is a driven person with high goals," Herber said. "She can set her mind with what she wants to accomplish and she's competitive enough and driven enough to do what she chooses to do.

"She wants to go pro. She's driven by her goals now."

Original Article by Bill Poehler (9-28-14)


  • Created By Carter McQuigg -- 5/18/2017

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