Taryn Nelson waited her turn for three years with the Bellarmine-Jefferson High girls’ volleyball team.
Although the senior outside hitter has been an impact player with the Guards since her freshman season, Nelson was relegated to second fiddle behind standout Jocelyn Cervantes, and rightfully so.
Cervantes is the most decorated athlete in Bell-Jeff volleyball history, earning three All-CIF Southern Section Division IV-A awards, two Santa Fe League Player-of-the-Year honors and four All-Area accolades. Cervantes — who is at Cal State Stanislaus — graduated last spring after setting a slew of Bell-Jeff school records.
Having to often take a back seat to Cervantes didn’t leave Nelson feeling bitter.
“I never looked at myself as the second-best player on the team,” Nelson said. “I just wanted to go out and contribute to the team in any way that I could.”
With the departure of Cervantes, the Guards were looking for someone to step up and lead, not only with words, but by example on the court. Nelson was more than willing to step into that role, and it is under her leadership that the Guards are enjoying another wildly successful season.
With a four-game win against St. Genevieve Thursday evening, Bell-Jeff (10-6, 6-0 in league) increased its consecutive league winning streak to 50, a string that dates back to 2006. With two more league contests remaining, the Guards are pushing toward their seventh straight league championship. In addition, Bell-Jeff is ranked No. 2 in Division IV-A.
But the success hasn’t come without strife. The Guards lost impact senior middle blocker Mariah Bankhead last month after she aggravated a nagging knee injury. The squad has also had to compete without a key play for Tuesday league games this season because of the athlete’s commitment to softball.
However, through it all, Bell-Jeff Coach Miguel Segura said Nelson has pulled the team together.
“This year she has really stepped up to be a leader on this team,” said Segura, who has coached the girls’ team since 2004. “She has taken this team on her back and really most of the time we go as she goes as far as success is concerned. She has learned to be a leader and the other girls seem to respond to her.”
The 5-foot-7 Nelson said she relishes the opportunity to be a team captain and help steer the Guards in the right direction.
“During the summer, I saw that we were lacking a lot of leadership on the court, and I figured if we were ever going to win there needed to be someone to lead by example,” she said. “So after that, I’ve just tried to do my best to lead.
“I just try not to bring anybody down or point out their flaws. I just try and help them do certain things better and try and pump them up when they need it.”
Her teammates only have to look at the numbers Nelson has put up thus far this season to determine that the senior is serious about winning. Along with 194 kills, Nelson has also tallied 185 digs and has 63 aces.
One of Nelson’s best efforts of the season came when the Guards needed her the most. In a crucial Santa Cruz League match Oct. 11 against host St. Anthony, Nelson had 27 kills to go along with 18 digs and four aces. The Guards pulled out a victory in five games.
The teams will meet for a rematch Oct. 30 at Bell-Jeff.
Nelson’s efforts aren’t lost on her teammates
“She basically inspires us on the court,” junior middle Briana Hillo said. “The way that she plays and the way that she motivates us just makes us all want to be better players. Also, the skills that she has are just amazing. She is just a great player and I’m happy to learn anything that she can teach me.”
When she was a freshman, Nelson was on a Bell-Jeff team that made program history by advancing to the Division IV-A championship contest for the first time. Unfortunately for the Guards, they fell in three games to Upland Christian.
Nelson is hoping the team can get back to the championship contest this year.
“That is definitely one of our goals this year,” said Nelson, who has tallied 525 kills the last three years despite playing with a partially torn ACL in her right knee she suffered as a freshman playing for the Guards’ soccer team. “But we have the league championship to think of first.”
With Nelson leading the way, opponents might not want to underestimate the Guards in their quest to accomplish both goals.