Many changes happened with the Belmont women’s basketball team during the first two years of head coach Brittany Ezell’s tenure.
Despite these changes though, one 6-foot, 2-inch constant has remained.
During her four years with the program, senior post Haley Nelson has gathered more individual accolades in her career than any women’s basketball player in recent memory. She has the fifth-most points and the sixth-most rebounds of any Bruin since they moved to the NCAA.
In her senior season alone, she was one of fourteen players across the country with 16 double doubles or more, while being named Atlantic Sun Player of the Week three weeks in a row in January. At the end of the season, she was named to the All-Atlantic Sun first team after two seasons of being on the conference’s second and all-tournament teams.
While Nelson is certainly grateful for her acocmplishments at Belmont, it’s hard for her to mention her successes without acknowledging her team or coaching staff, she said.
“The thing that is going to stay with me the most is that when you get awards and achievements, it all comes back on your team because you couldn’t do it without the whole team,” she said. “I didn’t do anything by myself. That’s really important to me that people realize that no matter how many of the achievements have my name on them, they’re impacted through the people around me.”
Ezell said that through her work ethic, Nelson has developed tremendously as both an athlete and a leader.
This basketball journey hasn’t been easy for Nelson, who overcame several injuries and illnesses throughout her career.
As a sophomore, she was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which keeps her from eating anything in the hours before a game. After being poked in the eye during her junior season, Nelson had to have eye surgery and began to wear her now-trademark goggles. An ACL injury last season also forced her to miss games.
While many might brag about conquering their personal struggles, Nelson continued to work humbly from day to day, said Ezell.
“Haley an unrelenting drive to succeed, and I think that’s in all that she does,” she said. “She’s just a model of perseverance and I think the kids see that in her. They realize that if she can fight through some of the things she’s had to fight through then they should have no complaints.”
The youngest of four siblings, Nelson grew up in a sports family that not only taught her the love of basketball, but also fostered her ability to become a leader.
“I don’t want to disappoint myself,” Nelson said. “Whenever people tell you that you have the possibility of doing something great, or the possibility of being a role model to other people, that means a lot to me… My parents would say growing up, ‘You’re a leader, you need to be a leader,’ and that stuck with me.”
Her parents were not the only family members who gave Nelson something to stick to. Her sister, who was an NAIA All-American at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn, gave her a unique perspective about being a student-athlete at college.
“She just really loved the experience not only for basketball but also for friends and the academic side,” Nelson said. “I looked at it in that way as not only do I want to become a better basketball player, but I want to become a person who makes so many friends, and not want to leave this area. That’s the point where I am now.”
Even though she finished her final season with the Bruins last week at the Atlantic Sun tournament, Nelson is approaching the next phase in her life with the same drive Bruin fans have seen on the court. A participant in the “4 + 1” program, she plans to finish her master’s in education and teach students anywhere from kindergarten through second grade.
With a year left in her master’s program though, Nelson’s teaching skills might be polished up with an older, more athletic crowd.
“I would love to stay and help out,” she said “We have freshmen I know I could continue working with through grad school. That would be a great opportunity to keep engaged in basketball at Belmont as well as helping myself learn how to teach.”
Ezell hopes that even after Nelson leaves Belmont, she will remember the effect she had on women’s basketball team.
“I think the people at Belmont appreciate Haley,” Ezell said. “I hope she knows how much the coaching staff and program appreciate her. I hope she leaves Belmont knowing that she left her stamp on it – years from now when the program gets to the point that we hope it will be, in the NCAA field every year, she knows we’ll be sitting on her shoulders.”
That may a tall order for the Bruins, but it’s six feet and two inches closer because of Nelson.