Dynamic duo leaves volleyball legacy

What are the chances that two middle blockers from Anchorage, Alaska who have never met before both decide to come to Walla Walla, Wash. to attend Whitman College? Regardless of how low the chances are, the Whitman College volleyball team has been lucky to have both Courtney Brewer and Olivia Nielson the past four years.

In 2012, seniors Brewer and Nielson helped lead the Missionary defense to a #10 national ranking for blocks per set in Division III. Individually, Nielson was second in the nation for blocks per set in DIII with 1.40. In addition, Nielson garnered Second Team All-Northwest Conference honors, while Brewer received an Honorable Mention.

Olivia Nielson ’13 (left) and Courtney Brewer ’13. Photo by Charlie Li.

While all the accolades and achievements are undeniably nice, the relationship the two players have developed over the past four years has been the most valuable part of their collegiate volleyball experience. The close-knit relationship they have today, however, did not exist when the pair was playing high school volleyball in Anchorage.

“We played against each other, we knew of each other, but we weren’t friends,” said Nielson.

“We went to rival high schools. My senior year [Nielson's team] won state, but the three years before that my team did, so we were always kind of butting heads,” said Brewer, who attended South Anchorage High School. Nielson attended rival A.J. Dimond High School, only seven miles away.

Luckily, Brewer and Nielson were able to leave their rivalry behind in Alaska when they made the transition to collegiate volleyball. As soon as they arrived on campus for preseason in 2009, the two began to mesh together partly because of free will, but also because they had no choice.

“We were kind of forced to be friends with the long preseason and everything. We always ate together and we were both in Jewett, so we spent a ton of time together,” said Nielson.

According to Brewer, even though they initially were coaxed into being teammates and friends, the healthy friendship they now enjoy did not take long to begin.

“We have a lot in common and from there it kind of evolved, and we became good friends from there on out,” said Brewer.

Fast-forward four years to the present and the Whitman volleyball team finds themselves fresh off an 11-12 overall record with a 9-7 conference record. This past season has been Whitman’s most successful volleyball team since 2007.

While Whitman’s stellar play in 2012 cannot be narrowed to one singular factor, head coach Matt Helm believes that much of the credit has to be attributed to the leadership that both Brewer and Nielson brought to the table.

“They are both so different, but such great volleyball players. Cori’s volleyball IQ and understanding of the game helped the team out while Olivia was a leader by example through her work ethic,” said Helm.

The success of this year can be appreciated even more because the previous three years have been so trying for the volleyball program. After being tabbed to finish in last place in the conference’s coach’s preseason poll, the Missionaries proved everyone wrong with a fourth place finish.

“We started to get our confidence back. It’s important to remember why you love the game,” said Brewer.

Nielson pointed out that it’s impossible not to recognize Helm as the primary jump-start that the program needed to get back on track.

“We had it in us all along, and Coach Helm was the one who really brought it out of us,” said Nielson.

Ideally, the successful season that Nielson and Brewer enjoyed this past year will mark the beginning of a winning tradition for years to come for the volleyball program. Nielson says she hopes that she and Brewer have demonstrated that dedication and persistence pay off in the long run.

“It’s about resiliency, mental toughness and sticking with it for four years,” said Nielson.




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