With less than two weeks to go until the Cougars men’s volleyball team opens their regular season against the Brandon University Bobcats, they are already looking at what could be defined as a worst-case-scenario start.
Their star player – 2011 CIS Rookie-of-the-Year, Andrew Nelson – is on crutches.
The six-foot-seven right-side hitter injured his left ankle during the Cougars annual pre-season tournament on Oct. 6.
“I landed on a guy’s foot and rolled it, and partially tore some ligaments in my ankle, so I’m still in rehab for awhile,” Nelson said. “They’re saying at least two more weeks, maybe more. If I’m lucky I’ll be back for our first game against Brandon.”
And the campus’ volleyball fans breathe a collective sigh of relief.
After all, it was largely thanks to Nelson’s rookie-year heroics that the team garnered any attention at all during the 2011-12 season.
Aside from the national recognition that comes with his CIS Rookie-of-the-Year award, he turned more than a few heads with his vicious production rate – 230 kills in a season, good enough for third in the school’s history books – and earning a spot on the Canadian junior men’s national team over the summer.
But when you set the bar so high on your first attempt, you’re only making things harder on yourself, right?
Not in Nelson’s eyes.
“I am putting more expectations on myself, but I don’t think it’s more pressure than last year,” he said. “I think last year there was a little bit more pressure on me because I was still expected to put on a major load, but I had a lot less experience.”
“I landed on a guy’s foot and rolled it, and partially tore some ligaments in my ankle…They’re saying at least two more weeks, maybe more. If I’m lucky I’ll be back for our first game against Brandon." – Andrew Nelson
His summer on the national junior men’s squad helped him grow as a player, and now he’s looking to add his experience to a new-look Cougars squad in 2012.
“We lost a lot of veteran guys last year, so we’re in a rebuilding stage, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to be doing any worse,” Nelson said. “We’re expecting a really tough first part of the season. I think the whole first part of the season is against teams that are top 10 in the country.”
The Cougars pre-Christmas schedule is indeed a veritable minefield of competition, with week after week pitting the team against perennial powerhouses such as Trinity Western, Alberta and UBC.
“Then after the Christmas break we’re playing a lot of beatable teams, so we’re hoping to make a playoff run after Christmas,” Nelson said. “Right now we’re just working on improving our game up until Christmas, and then turning it on and winning a couple games after.”
A lot of the work that needs to be done, Nelson said, revolves around developing communication between unfamiliar teammates.
“I think [that’s] the biggest part of our game we have to work on, because we have the basic skills, but we’re working with a lot of new guys,” he said. “The on-court chemistry isn’t quite there yet, and Greg [Barthel, head coach] and the team are trying to get more communication going on, so we can become more comfortable with each other on the court.”
The Cougars open up the 2012 regular season with a two-game home stand against the Brandon University Bobcats on Oct. 26 and 27.