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Volleyball Coach to be Inducted Into NAIA Hall of Fame
Article courtesy of Joshua R. Russo, Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY — The past eight years have been a series of changes for Fernanda Nelson.
The former National American University volleyball player and assistant coach — formerly known as Fernanda Vivancos — has great news. She will be inducted into the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame and be honored on Dec. 2 through Dec. 6. She will be honored for her efforts as a player from 2000 to 2003.
“I think she is more than deserving,” said her college coach Todd Lowery, who submitted the information to the NAIA to nominate her. “She is one of the best setters I’ve seen at any level. She helped start the winning tradition there.” “She eats, sleeps and drinks volleyball. Congratulations, and it couldn’t go to a more deserving player.”
Nelson was surprised when she heard the news last year.
“When I came to the U.S., I didn’t realize ... I never felt that since I was an international kid that I wouldn’t get the honor,” Nelson said. “I feel so blessed that they gave me the chance to have such a great career.”
With a national title in 2002, NAU’s winning tradition coincides with Nelson’s arrival in the U.S.
Nelson came to NAU from Sao Paulo, Brazil, after being contacted in the spring of 2000 by NAU. Nelson had 13 years of playing experience in her native country and in 1997, she was named the top setter in Brazil.
The move to the U.S. was an opportunity of a lifetime.
As a freshman at NAU, she immediately made an impact, earning second team All-American honors during her rookie season. Nelson then won the National Player of the Year award during her sophomore and senior seasons. She was a three-time First-Team All-American selection. In 2007, she was inducted into the National American University Hall of Fame.
More than statistics, Lowery said Nelson brought more to the position than was expected.
“She was a setter, but (she was) very offensive minded. She would average about as many kills as an outside hitter, but mainly it was her drive,” said Lowery, about what made Nelson a great player. “I don’t think we had a setter that had the ability to make everyone around her better.”
As a team, the Mavericks were equally as successful. NAU won the region and was second in the nation in 2001, before winning the national title in 2002. In 2003, the NAU volleyball team was a preseason-to-national tournament No. 1 ranked team, before a loss in the national quarterfinals.
After her college volleyball career as a player, Nelson settled in Rapid City. In 2003, she married Ethan Nelson, who owns Stone Projects — a granite import business in Rapid City. The couple has a daughter, Isabella, who will be two years old in December.
Fernanda Nelson’s family continues to grow. A friend from Sao Paulo, Lilian Lucas, followed Fernanda Nelson to NAU to learn English and attend NAU. Lilian and Fernanda became sisters-in-law in 2003 when Lilian married her husband’s brother, Nick Nelson. Fernanda and Lilian were two of eight NAU athletes in a two-year span that came from Brazil and eventually got married.
Fernanda still has a fondness for Rapid City and the Black Hills.
“I love Rapid City,” Nelson said. “First of all, I’m very thankful National American University gave me a scholarship. The only reason I left was because I didn’t have an opportunity to coach volleyball.”
Nelson left Rapid City after a year as an assistant coach and as the head coach for the junior varsity team when NAU decided last winter to cut its athletic programs.
The decision initially upset Nelson, who had just completed months of recruiting players to the program — a duty that she was a part of even as a player. Some of the players she contacted were from Brazil and were offered the same opportunity Nelson had. Nelson had high hopes for the 2008 season.
“We have a national championship team sitting in Rapid City right now,” she said.
But her love of volleyball and competitive nature found a new home. She is now an assistant coach at Florida Gulf Coast University, which has a Division I volleyball program.
“We’re taking the school to the next level,” Nelson said. “We’re gonna be one of the best in the U.S.”
Being the outstanding player she was, she would not expect less as a coach.