Dare to Be First

Photo by Joe Howell

The inside story of Vanderbilt volleyball’s first recruiting class


Vanderbilt’s inaugural Southeastern Conference volleyball match was more than two years away as Anders Nelson sat in a Kansas City restaurant this past February. The familiar rush of adrenaline and camaraderie that defines competitive athletics washed over him all the same. Never mind that his roster was notional, Vanderbilt’s program then little more than the three people seated around the table. Never mind that instead of the roar of a crowd inside a packed arena, the backdrop was the murmur of conversation from nearby diners.

History was beginning, and it was time to find the student-athletes who wanted to write it.

For one weekend each year, the college volleyball community convenes in Kansas City for the Triple Crown NIT. A three-day tournament featuring more than 500 youth club teams and thousands of the best recruits, Triple Crown is one of the biggest events on volleyball’s recruiting calendar. For Vanderbilt, it was in many ways a public debut.

With matches set to begin the following morning and the NCAA recruiting evaluation period officially open, Nelson dined with assistant coaches Russell Corbelli and Lauren Plum. Once matches began, coaches found food when and where they could in and around watching 12 or more hours of volleyball each day. But in that evening’s calm before the serves, Nelson felt a surge of gratitude for the new colleagues alongside him. Just weeks earlier, they had been strangers, rising talents in the profession whose paths had crossed only occasionally. Now, as they absentmindedly plucked food off each other’s plates and mapped out weekend priorities, there was no one he trusted more to shape the vision for what was possible at Vanderbilt.

Underlying it all was a nervous excitement—the feeling that comes in the biggest of moments—like that surrounding his team winning a national championship two years earlier. The feeling that comes just before you do something you’ll never forget.

Read the full story by Graham Hays here.

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