With a roster dominated by underclassmen, it’s fitting that the No. 23 MSU volleyball team would need to turn somewhere for leadership and maturity.
The Spartans’ two seniors, middle blockers Vanessa King and Mischelle Nelson, have helped fill that role, providing a locker room presence and helping lead the team to a 14-2 start.
With careers that have spanned a wide range of ups and downs, the seniors have used their experiences to help mentor some of the younger players and navigate them through many triumphs and defeats.
During their freshman year, King and Nelson made it to the NCAA Tournament, a significant step for the program.
The following year, they pushed a step further, making it to the Sweet 16, but were put in a difficult situation last season having to rely on several freshmen and sophomores, and finished below .500.
“I think it’s good that we’ve had both, because we can experience both,” King said.
“We know what it takes to get to the Sweet 16 and we also know what it takes to change like we did last year when we went 15-16 and didn’t make it to the tournament. We know how to change that, too.”
This year, they know how to deal with momentum shifts and are prepared to be the team’s emotional leaders in a tough Big Ten stretch.
“We really want to focus on trying to stay consistent, especially during October, which is kind of the make-or-break part of people’s seasons,” Nelson said. “Something Vanessa and I really stressed in our meeting at the beginning of the year is for these Big Ten games, not looking back or regretting anything.”
The two seniors have played strong defense at the net, ranking as the team’s top two shot blockers this season.
King, who finished her prep career at Spring Lake High School in Spring Lake, Mich., as the program’s career leader in kills, was named All-Big Ten last year after leading the team in kills, hitting percentage and blocks.
She began this season as a Big Ten preseason all-conference selection, and leads the team in blocks per set.
King returned this past weekend from an ankle injury that forced her to miss the two previous games, both of which the Spartans lost.
King said she would love to play volleyball after graduation if given the chance.
Nelson, the team’s leader in total blocks, has seen her role expand as her career has progressed.
“The seniors have always set good examples and always do the right things in drills,” redshirt freshman defensive specialist Mandi Karaba said.
“They will always help
you if you’re lost in a drill and always call you out if you’re doing something wrong.”
Just four games into a 20-game Big Ten schedule, the team will continue to rely on its seniors for leadership and direction. Both played key roles in this
weekend’s victories against No. 12 Illinois and Northwestern; Nelson had 14 kills against Illinois on Friday, while King recorded nine kills and four blocks in Saturday’s win.
“They’ve watched the program grow in many ways throughout the years they’ve been here, and both have really helped progress our program,” head coach Cathy George said. “They’ve had good careers.”
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