THE NELSON FILE | 2014
Jeff Nelson enters his eighth season as the University of New Mexico head volleyball coach. Nelson led the Lobos to a 24-7 record in 2013 and a second place finish in the Mountain West. The 24 wins was the best for the program since 1988.
In 2013, the Lobo mentor earned his 100th UNM victory nine matches in to the 2012 campaign with a 3-2 win over Georgia Southern at home on Sept. 7. Nelson's Cherry and Silver record is 112-68 entering the 2013 season.
In his 19 complete seasons as a head coach at the collegiate level, Nelson has accumulated a 378-222 mark, having spent eight seasons at Texas Tech (1995-2002) and four (2003-06) at the University of San Francisco before coming to New Mexico in 2007.
The Austin, Minn., native has had a tremendous impact on the Lobo Volleyball program--wins and otherwise. In his six complete seasons, the Lobos have notched five winning seasons, four 20-win seasons, and two trips to the NCAA Tournament.
UNM's per match attendance has nearly quadrupled under Nelson. The Lobos averaged 491 fans per contest in 2006, and for matches played 2007-11, UNM has drawn an average 1,602 aficionados each match.
The Lobos have finished in the top 20 nationwide for attendance twice since Nelson's arrival--finishing No. 16 in 2011 for attendance, drawing an average of 2,184 fans per match for a grand total of 26,211. In 2010, UNM was 12th nationwide as a program-best 33,181 fans filed in to the Johnson Center--a match average of 2,212.
Nelson has also produced eight American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America selections while at New Mexico: Jeanne Fairchild (2008; third team), Taylor Hadfield (2009; honorable mention), Jade Michaelsen (2010; honorable mention), Lisa Meeter (2010; honorable mention), Ashley Rhoades (2011; honorable mention), Allison Buck (2011; honorable mention) and Chantale Riddle (2012; honorable mention, 2013; third team). Prior to Nelson's arrival, UNM hadn't had an All-America selection since 1992. He has also coached two MW Freshman of the Year in Lisa Meeter (2007) and Julia Warren (2013) and one Mountain West Player of the Year in Jeanne Fairchild (2008) as well as numerous All-Region and All-Conference student-athletes.
In addition to success on the court, Nelson has held academics as a high priority for his Lobo student-athletes. The Lobos' latest award was earned by Kelly Williamson, who was named 2011-12 Mountain West Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The award is the highest honor given by the Conference and recognizes individuals who are well-rounded student-athletes, excelling on the court, in the classroom and in their community. Williamson was also a 2010 Rhoades Scholar candidate and a two-time Academic All-American (2010 and 2011).
UNM has had three Academic All-Region selections with Nelson at the helm (Williamson, Jade Michalesen and Jeanne Fairchild) as well as well over 45 student-athletes named to the Fall All-Mountain West Academic Team and over 30 student-athletes named Mountain-West Scholar Athletes.
The 2012 season started out as one of the most exciting in recent years as the Lobos cruised to a 15-2 start thanks to an 11-match win streak - the third-longest streak in program history.
UNM's eighth win of the season was Nelson's 100th as a Lobo. A 3-2 win over Georgia Southern at home gave New Mexico's headmaster the milestone victory.
But then, injuries started to wear on the Lobos. The 13-player roster was cut to 11 before the season even started as a knee injury sidelined freshman Ashley Kelsey and a concussion kept Sara Stelzer, also a freshman, out. Mid-September another Lobo was lost as sophomore Elsa Krieg tore her ACL and just over a month later, junior Ashley Newman tore hers. Nine bodies made up the Lobo roster from Oct. 23 on.
Despite all the injuries and the youth of the squad, UNM finished with a winning record of 20-13. The Lobos won some impressive Mountain West matches, beating league favorite Colorado State in comeback fashion, 3-2, on Sept. 20 at home, and followed that up with a 3-1 win over MW preseason No. 3 Wyoming on Sept. 22. UNM finished 7-9 in MW play, a record that was seventh among the nine league teams.
Jordan Russell provided extraordinary leadership as the lone senior on the team while Chantale Riddle was the force to be reckoned with at the net and Miquella Lovato's back-court play was the best in the league.
Riddle and Lovato earned All-Mountain West accolades - Lovato earning Designated Libero honors. Riddle was also named AVCA All-West first team, AVCA All-America honorable mention and COBRA Magazine All-National second team.
The 2011 season was one of ups and downs as the Lobos were plagued by injury and inconsistency, promise and frustration. The squad had moments in which it looked brilliant and other moments where it seemed nothing went right on the court.
The Lobos finished 14-15 overall and 6-8 in MW play and were led by three seniors who finished their careers with exceptional seasons. Ashley Rhoades led UNM and the Mountain West in kills (408/3.89) and points (474.5) en route to being named All-Conference, AVCA All-Region and earning AVCA honorable mention All-America. Libero Allison Buck was also named All-Conference, AVCA All-Region and AVCA honorable mention All-America, setting UNM's single-season and career mark for digs (561; 1,630). In addition to being named the 2011-12 MW Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, Kelly Williamson was named All-Conference and first team Academic All-America.
Nelson's 2010 Lobos finished 20-10 for the second-consecutive season, winning 16 of their final 20 games to set them up for their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. The squad finished 12-4 in the Mountain West Conference, good for a second place finish and the second-most conference wins in school history. The 12 wins were a school record since joining the MW in 1999 and it was the third consecutive 20-win season for the Lobos.
The second place finish was the best of the Nelson era, and it was UNM's highest finish in the Mountain West Conference since 2000. New Mexico had finished in third place each of the three previous seasons under Nelson's lead.
The Lobos also racked up plenty of conference and regional honors. Michaelsen and Meeter, along with Taylor Hadfield, were all All-West selections by the AVCA. In the Mountain West, all three were named First Team All-MW, with Allison Buck earning the same as well as Libero of the Year honors. Not to be outdone, Kelly Williamson was named Third Team CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-America as well. With all those accolades, it was only fitting that Nelson be named the 2010 Mountain West Coach of the Year.
Attendance also continued to increase at the Johnson Center as UNM posted its second-best season attendance average in 2010 at 2,232, good enough for 12th in the nation (UNM's best attendance average goes back to 1991 when fans filled the Johnson Center at a rate of 2,349 per match). The Lobos drew a school-record 33,480 through the turnstiles in 2010 as well. In fact, the Lobos ended the season with a streak of 35 consecutive matches of 1,000 fans or more.
In 2009, UNM went 20-10 overall and 10-6 in MW play, which gave New Mexico back-to-back 20 win seasons. UNM also made its first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1994, playing NCAA semifinalist Hawai'i in the First Round. The Lobos had an AVCA All-American honoree for the second year in a row. Junior Taylor Hadfield became the sixth Lobo in history to receive All-America honors in December 2009.
Attendance also continued to rise as UNM posted its then third-best season attendance average in 2009 at 1,677, good enough for 23rd in the nation.
In 2008, New Mexico finished the season 22-7, the most wins by a Lobo team since 1991, while finishing third in the MW at 11-5, also the most league wins since 1991.
Senior Jeanne Fairchild was named the program's first AVCA All-American (third team) since 1992, the fifth in UNM history. Fairchild became the first Lobo to be named MW Player of the Year and repeat as an all-MW honoree. For the first time there were multiple Lobos on the all-MW list as Fairchild was joined by senior libero Gayle Tripp and sophomore setter Jade Michaelsen.
In addition to her playing accolades, Fairchild was named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District VI Team in 2008.
The Lobos also saw an increase in attendance at Johnson Center for the second-consecutive season. UNM averaged 1,570 fans in 2008, ranking 20th in the nation. At the time it was the largest attendance average since the Lobos played in The Pit in 1997 and included four matches with more than 2,000 in attendance.
During Nelson's first season, the Lobos posted a 16-13 overall and 6-7 record in MW play. It was the first time Lobo Volleyball had a winning season since 1996.
Junior Jeanne Fairchild became just the second Lobo to earn All-Mountain West Conference honors and Lisa Meeter was the first Lobo to be named Mountain West Freshman of the Year. The team also saw an increase in attendance average, drawing 847 per match, which was a drastic improvement on the 491 per-match rate of 2006.
Before New Mexico...
Nelson took over the UNM program in 2007 with 12 years of head coach experience--four seasons at the University of San Francisco (2003-2006) and eight at Texas Tech (1995-2002).
While directing the Dons of USF, Nelson compiled a 76-51 record, including the Dons' first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003. Prior to his arrival, the Dons had suffered 15 straight losing seasons and posted just two winning campaigns in 26 years of competition. USF's overall record from 1977-2002 was 229-494 (.316) and the program had never been to the NCAA Tournament.
In Nelson's first season, USF logged a 23-8 record, smashing the school record for single-season wins. The Dons won their first 16 matches of the season, then finished fourth in the highly-regarded West Coast Conference to earn the school's first NCAA bid. The 17-win improvement from 2002 is the greatest turnaround in the history of the WCC. USF was also ranked in the top-25 for the first time.
San Francisco was 23-10 in 2006 as it posted consecutive winning seasons for the first time in school history. The Dons were 18-12 in 2005 and a 12-19 mark in 2004. Despite just four years at USF, Nelson left as the school's all-time winningest women's volleyball coach.
Nelson had a 166-96 ledger in eight seasons at Texas Tech. He guided the Red Raiders to five 20-win seasons and five trips to the NCAA Tournament. Nelson had more tournament victories than any previous Red Raiders coach (15) and boasted a career winning percentage of .634.
Nelson produced an American Coaches Volleyball Association (AVCA) All-American (Colleen Smith), a NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship recipient and nine AVCA All-Region Team members by seven different players. Nine players earned all-conference honors, including the 2000 Big 12 Conference Defensive Player of Year as well as the 2001 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
During Nelson's tenure in Lubbock, his team achieved excellence in the classroom, responding with 28 Big-12 All-Academic selections. In addition, Jill Burness earned the Verizon/CoSIDA Volleyball Academic All-American of the Year award in 1996.
In addition to his impressive resume from Texas Tech, Nelson enjoyed similar success at every stop during his career both as a player and as a coach. As a volleyball player at Ball State University, his collegiate team advanced to the NCAA Final Four in 1985. He helped guide Muncie Burris High School to the 1995 Indiana State Volleyball Championship with a 42-0 record while serving as an assistant coach.
As a graduate assistant at the University of Nebraska, he was part of a program that placed runner-up at the 1986 NCAA Championships. From Nebraska, he was named assistant head coach in 1988 and head coach of the Minnesota Monarchs of Major League Volleyball for the 1989 season. He led the Monarchs to a 9-0 start in 1989 and coached the East All-Star team.
After the MLV folded, Nelson joined the University of Minnesota as an assistant coach. He helped the Golden Gophers post a 29-9 record, finish second in the Big Ten Conference, and advance to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 1989.
Nelson was also involved with the club circuit in Minnesota. During the 1989-90 school year, he coached the Golden Spike Juniors, who placed third nationally among the U.S. Junior Olympians 18 & Under group and produced two USJO All-Americans and three high school All-Americans. Nelson also has international experience as he was named the assistant coach for the 1991 U.S. Junior National Boys team. In 1992, he coached the Junior National Boys teams to the Canada Cup Challenge Championship.
In 1993, Nelson was the assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic Festival women's North Team that won a bronze medal in San Antonio. He was assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic Festival men's West Team in St. Louis in 1994. That same year he coached the Sun Devil Volleyball Club team to runner-up honors in the U.S. Women's Open Championships, where three team members were selected as All-Americans.
From 1990 to 1995, Nelson helped Arizona State earn three NCAA appearances (1992-93-94) - including a pair of Sweet Sixteen showings - and one NIVC berth (1990). During his five years as recruiting coordinator, Nelson signed four high school All-Americans. He also doubled as the Arizona State men's club team coach where he guided the Sun Devils to three Cactus Region championships and three Top-10 national finishes. Nelson produced five All-Americans and one USA Open All-American, placed seventh in the U.S. Open and hosted the 1994 National Club championships. His 1994 club team posted a 68-5 record and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation.
Nelson was also active in youth club volleyball at Arizona State. From 1992 to 1995 Nelson coached the 18 & Under East Valley Volleyball Club to the 1994 and 1995 Cactus Region championship and reached the USJO Final 16 at the USA National Championships.
Twenty-three of his former club athletes received Division I scholarships, three were selected as Junior National team members, while five were named high school All-Americans. Nelson also served on the Cactus Region Board of Directors from 1992 to 1995 and the Sun Country Region Board from 2001-2003.
A native of Austin, Minn., Nelson received his bachelor's of arts degree from Ball State in 1986, after attending Austin Community College. He played setter, outside hitter and defensive specialist for the Cardinals.
Nelson currently chairs the AVCA Hall of Fame Committee and serves on the NCAA West Region Committee. He served on the AVCA Top-25 Poll committee for nine seasons and also chaired the AVCA All-Central Region and the AVCA All-America Committees. At USF, Nelson served on the AVCA All-Pacific Region and NCAA Pacific Regional Committees. Nelson has two sons, Harley and Kaden.
He has signed a contract with UNM through the 2017 season.