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College volleyball: Former Badger Haleigh Nelson’s newest challenge won’t be walk on beach

May 15, 2017 GMT

Haleigh Nelson was just starting her job hunting when she started to think about a backup plan.

As a result, the work world will have to wait for a while as Nelson continues her volleyball pursuits — in a new locale and a different version of the sport.

Nelson, a two-time All-American middle blocker for the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, said recently she will be joining the beach volleyball program at LSU as a graduate transfer.

She will have one year of eligibility — beach volleyball is considered by the NCAA as a different sport than indoor — as she pursues her MBA at LSU.

“I was like, why would I pass up an opportunity to continue being a student-athlete when that is the best role I’ve ever had?” Nelson said. “And I only have one year left to do it, so why not? It made sense for me. And I thought that continuing school would make me a better job candidate in future.”

So while she waited to hear back from a company with which she had interviewed, Nelson decided to email a good number of the 60 or so schools that have beach volleyball teams. She didn’t have any strong preferences and wasn’t sure how much interest there would be in an indoor player making the switch to beach for one year.

“I’ve really enjoyed playing indoor and we’ve had success over the years,” she said, “but I didn’t know how important it was that I never really played beach competitively. A few of them got back to me and I went from there.

“LSU was one of the few schools where I could get my MBA straight out of undergrad. Their grad program is a two-year program, which is better for me because I’ll only be playing beach for one year and then I’ll have that second year to get some experience and really work on where I want to fall in the job market.”

Beach volleyball is the fastest growing Division I sport over the past five years. The NCAA just completed its second national tournament, with Southern Cal defeating Pepperdine last week for its second title.

LSU’s program began in 2014 and the Tigers were among eight teams to make this year’s tournament. They won one of three matches to finish the season with a 27-8 record and ranked No. 6.

Beach teams consist of five teams of two players, who play best-of-3 sets matches. A team needs to win three of the five matches.

Beach also requires different training and skills.

“It’s definitely not an easy transition,” Nelson said. “I have to get in a different kind of shape than I’ve been in before. I’ve done a lot of heavy lifting in the past for indoor, and beach is more of a leaner muscle and quick-twitch type situation. So my strength training will be a lot different.

“As far as skills I really need to work on my bump setting. It’s just a completely different dynamic.

“What I really like about the sport is I’ll get to work my volleyball IQ a lot more. I’ll get to work on my visuals of the court. A lot of what I’ve done indoor will translate but at first it will be really difficult to change over. While it seems like the same sport, it’s most definitely not.”

Nelson knows she’ll have a steep learning curve once she gets to Baton Rouge and begins working with the team in the fall. But she’s excited about the opportunity.

“It’s something new and I’ve always been a big fan of trying things that are new,” she said. “I’m also a competitor so it excites me that my time competing isn’t over. I still get another season to be an athlete. Most people don’t even get one year. So to get five is pretty cool.”