Shouldering aches and gains
Senior outside hitter Rebekah Nelson’s health has a lot to do with it.
The Warhawks (28-4) have won 10 straight matches heading into Friday night’s WIAC semifinal match against UW-La Crosse at Williams Center.
Nelson, a Williams Bay High School graduate and a NCAA Division III All-Americaelection in 2006, underwent surgery last January for torn cartilage and a slight tear in the rotator cuff of her left shoulder. The recovery and rehabilitation ran into the start of the 2007 season. Nelson struggled with the mental and physical stress of trying to regain the form that helped lead the Warhawks to a national title in 2005 and a third-place finish in 2006.
“It seems to be getting stronger week by week,” Nelson said of the surgically repaired left shoulder. “I’m not favoring it as much as I was earlier in the season. I’m gaining more and more confidence each match.
“I’d say the shoulder is about 90 percent right now. But it has not been easy. I remember sleeping in a recliner the first few days after surgery. It was very painful.”
The Warhawks are peaking at the right time. Whitewater won the WIAC regular-season title with an 8-0 record and will earn another automatic NCAA Division III tournament berth with two wins this weekend.
Nelson is one of five senior starters who were part of the 2005 championship team. The return of the nucleus of the past two final-four teams made Nelson’s decision to have surgery an easy one. She could have opted to red-shirt this season and come back for a fifth and final year of eligibility in 2008.
Nelson is set to graduate with a degree in physical education in December of 2008, but she decided to have the surgery in order to play this season.
“I’m very happy with the decision to have the surgery,” she said.
“I’m a senior and a leader on this team, and I knew we had a good chance to win it all this year with everybody coming back.”
Mukwonago High School graduate Carley Polk leads a potent Warhawk attack. Polk, a second-team All-America selection a year ago, has 317 kills for a team-high .324 percentage.
Madison Memorial graduate Kelly Sorenson has 294 kills, followed by Abby Schultz with 259. Nelson, despite playing 10 less matches than the rest of the starters, has 178 kills after Tuesday night’s quarterfinal win over UW-Stout.
Stoughton graduate Kate Lazotte leads the team with 1,154 assists, while sophomore and 2005 Williams Bay graduate Kristina Conlin leads in games played with 100.
Warhawk coach Stacy Boudreau said it’s no secret that the team has responded to Nelson’s improved play.
“As her confidence grows on the court, so does the team’s,” Boudreau said. “She’s not all the way back, but she’s getting closer.
“Becca just has a feel for the game that rubs off on everybody else. As her strength has built up, she’s gotten back to getting her kills and giving us another weapon up front.
“I’ve got a real special group of seniors who want to end their careers with another trip to the national tournament. Becca wasn’t going to let that opportunity slip away.”
Nelson made a career-changing decision, and the 2007 Warhawks are looking healthier than ever.