Nielson’s personal success coincides with resurgence of Gonzaga
Welcome to Deanna Nielson’s world.
The Gonzaga University sophomore has benefitted from a position change and the Bulldogs have benefited from her stellar play, with the team winning its most matches in the West Coast Conference since 1994. There is still two weeks left in the regular season.
“It’s incredible. The past couple years it’s been a battle for the coaches to get this team where they wanted it to be,” Nielson told me. “This is my head coach’s fifth season. He got hired and inherited a team that wasn’t very good and had to build it basically from the ground up again.
“I was one of their first recruits they brought in to rebuild this program. We have some really great players that came in with me and they really stepped it up and the coaches have brought in some great personnel, and it’s really made a difference. This is the year we’re finally capitalizing on that. A lot of credit goes to the coaches but a lot goes to us too because we’re performing.”
Nielson, of Dimond High fame, has moved from setter to middle hitter this season and as a result her offensive numbers have jumped off the page. The 6-footer has 88 kills in 83 sets and a career-best .246 hitting percentage.
Today she delivered seven kills on 14 attempts in a three-set sweep of Portland. That pushed her average to 6.2 kills over the last six matches, the best stretch of her career.
Better yet, Nielson has slammed the ball without making many errors, flashing a 24-to-4 ratio in the last two weeks against Portland, San Francisco, Santa Clara and Loyola Marymount.
Her breakout is a result of patience and persistence. And maybe a little luck too.
Gonzaga coaches were forced to move her to the middle out of necessity after two starters went down with injuries. Then again, Nielson made the most of her opportunity. When she got the ball, she didn’t drop it. She killed it.
“We needed another one and they knew that I hit in high school so they threw me in there and it ended up working pretty well and I haven’t moved back,” she said. “I’ve put in the work and I’ve put in the time. Now it’s finally like I’ve earned a spot on this team. Rather than just being a part of the team, I’m a significant contributor now. It feels good.”