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Nevada volleyball coach Lee Nelson staying patient with his young squad

Lee Nelson
Lee Nelson is in his seventh season with the Nevada volleyball program. (Nevada athletics)

Nevada volleyball coach Lee Nelson has dealt with a double whammy this season — youth and injuries.

The Wolf Pack started the season 1-8 before back-to-back home wins over Sac State and CSUN at the Nevada Classic Tournament last week. The Wolf Pack opened Mountain West play Thursday with a 3-0 loss to San Diego State, pushing the Aztecs in set one before losing the second and third sets. Nelson has had to be patient with his team, which has dealt with a number of injuries, including a torn ACL for star player, Kayla Afoa, who is missing her second straight season with the injury.

"We started off pretty rough," Nelson said. "We have a number of players that are injured that may not come back for the season at all, so we've been forced to throw a number of freshmen out there and just kind of say, 'Hey, it's time to sink or swim.' We were sinking at the beginning and we started at least figuring out how to doggy paddle a little bit and put some stuff together. With a young team, sometimes it's hard to do it for an entire match. Sometimes it's hard to do it for an entire set. But there are times where we look pretty solid, but then we just kind of give up a bunch of points. So I'm encouraged that we have so many young players on the floor that are competing for most of the time. It's just trying to get a little bit more of that veteran resiliency that you develop as you're a freshman and sophomore, and we just don't have that yet."

Nelson, who is in his seventh season at Nevada, said getting consistent play is the biggest challenge with a young team. Nevada went 3-12 in its conference-only season in the spring and is hoping to improve upon that in MW action this season despite losing some seniors in the offseason. Nelson said he'll know his team is making the correct strides if the wild fluctuations in its play from one set to the next are minimized.

"It's that consistency of hitting the shots that we're working on in practice that, 'Hey, when it gets tough, we don't all a sudden revert back to the shot that worked in high school and in club against a 5-7 right side.' Suddenly the right side is 6-3 and suddenly that shot just doesn't work anymore. Can we continue to have confidence in what it is we're trying to practice and not throw in the towel with that and go back to what we were doing just because it didn't work once? Obviously the statistics you want to see those continue to go up and be more consistent. We have the capacity to make a lot of errors with a bunch of freshmen out there. So can we cut down with that while still figuring out how to be aggressive? And that's really the balancing act we're trying to figure out. We get a little complacent and then we go around and be aggressive and then we hit the ball out a lot. So can we find that balance of reducing the errors while continuing to explore and be good at the things we're working on in practice?"

Nevada returns to action Saturday when it hosts UNLV at 1 p.m. at the Virginia Street Gym. The rival Rebels won the MW with a 12-0 conference record last season but dropped a 3-0 match to San Jose State in its 2021 MW opener this week, snapping a seven-game win streak. UNLV is 9-3 this season and will provide a stiff challenge for Nevada.

"It's a great opportunity," Nelson said. "UNLV is a very solid team with a number of good players. They're well coached. They have a number of seniors that are talented. Let's give them our best shot and see what happens. How many times in your life do you get to play one of the best teams and really see what you're made of? And we shouldn't go in afraid. We should go in saying, 'We're going to defend our home court. Let's make them play their best game to beat us. Can they do that?'

"They're just coming off a 3-0 loss to San Jose, which was a little bit of an upset. I watched that film this morning and San Jose is firing on all cylinders right now. But UNLV is very, very good. So they're going to come in probably a little angry and ready to go. We need to be ready for that and take their best shot and give it right back to them."

You can watch Lee Nelson's full NSN Daily interview below.

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