Katie Nelson didn’t know she was going to play until two hours prior to the match.
She hadn’t played since suffering a concussion in the Bobcats’ loss to Dayton on Aug. 29. So when coach Deane Webb told Nelson she was not only going to play, but also start she was excited. And nervous.
Nelson’s nerves quickly faded though as she went through the match, shaking off those two months out of commission, helping Ohio sweep Mid-American Conference rival Kent State (25-23, 25-23, 25-20) in The Convo on Thursday night.
“My cardio sucked,” Nelson said with a smile. “But it was awesome. Everyone welcomed me back with big open arms and when the fans cheered really loud when they announced my name, I teared up a little bit.”
The emotion almost overcame Nelson. She was back on the floor playing her sport. It’s been a long time coming for Nelson, who attempted to clear the protocol earlier this season, but she wasn’t ready. She’s gone through various training mechanisms and worked to get back on the floor with her teammates.
The work paid off. Nelson finished the night with seven kills on 16 attacks, conceding just one error. She hit a team-high .375. But that came with a price. She was flat-out tired.
“My only goal was to not die,” Nelson said. “It was after the first rally, and I was like, ‘Woo, we’re back!’ But there was no pressure on me. Everyone just said ‘Katie, go have fun.’”
Although she was tired, Nelson’s teammates took notice of her play.
Outside hitter Stephanie Olman was pleased to not only have Nelson back on the floor for her play, but also her leadership.
“(Having Nelson back) is awesome,” Olman said. “She’s a great vocal leader and she brings a lot of energy to us.”
Nelson’s physical and vocal return to the lineup came at a pivotal point in Ohio’s season. With the victory over Kent State, the Bobcats clinched a spot in next weekend’s MAC Tournament.
While they don’t know their seed, they know the opportunity for a first-round bye is in the mix.
With Nelson back in the mix, it adds to what the Bobcats have been building on all year; they are young, but now they have their captain back, and they’re trying to take advantage of it.
“You can’t control who’s (seeded around you) so there’s no use in stressing about it,” Webb said. “But you can control if you get that bye, and that’s pretty important for us.”