NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A rising star in the coaching profession and integral part of the first SEC volleyball program to win a national championship, Anders Nelson (pronounced ahn-ders) will usher in a new era of Vanderbilt volleyball as the reintroduced program's first head coach, the university announced.
This past April, Vanderbilt announced the addition of volleyball as its 17th varsity sport. The program was originally discontinued after the 1979-80 academic year.
"It is a unique honor to join the Vanderbilt family as the first head volleyball coach of this new era," Nelson said. "From the beginning of my lifelong relationship with volleyball, I learned to value not only the thrill of competition but the opportunity to influence how young people see themselves and the world around them.
"Challenging and supporting student-athletes to be their best on the court unlocks their potential off the court. To build an SEC program on those principles, in a vibrant and dynamic city, at a world-class university like Vanderbilt is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'm grateful to Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and Candice Lee for entrusting it to me. There is so much to do before 2025, and I can't wait to get started."
Most recently the associate head coach at the University of Kentucky, where he helped mentor student-athletes who won the 2020 NCAA Championship and recently extended a streak of winning at least a share of six consecutive SEC championships, Nelson will lead a Commodore program that begins play in the 2025-26 academic year.
"I want our volleyball student-athletes to walk into a championship-caliber program, which is why I'm so excited to welcome Anders Nelson as our first coach," said Candice Lee, Vanderbilt vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletic director. "Coach Nelson not only has valuable experience as part of SEC and NCAA championship teams, but embraces and understands the unique opportunity that is Vanderbilt. He's excited to come to work every day to help young people dare to grow. As we promised with the Vandy United campaign, we want to reimagine what is possible for Vanderbilt Athletics. And by joining us now, Coach Nelson has time to immerse himself in our collaborative environment and help build every facet of this program from the ground up."
Nelson, 35, spent the past 11 seasons at Kentucky, first as an assistant coach and as associate head coach for the past seven seasons. The Wildcats reached the NCAA tournament in each of his 11 seasons in Lexington and progressed to at least the second round on all but one occasion. In his seven seasons as associate head coach, Kentucky compiled a 117-11 record in official SEC matches and won at least a share of six conference titles, including a perfect 18-0 record in 2018. In April 2021, completing a 2020 season delayed by the COVID pandemic, Kentucky defeated former national champions Washington and Texas in the Final Four to win the SEC's first volleyball national title. Among those he helped recruit and reach their potential was 2021 AVCA Player of the Year and 2020-21 Honda Award winner Madison Lilley.
Nelson also served as a volunteer assistant for the Wildcats in 2011 and an assistant coach at the University of Arkansas in 2012. Prior to that, he won championships coaching at both the AAU and high school levels. As an assistant coach, while also competing as a collegiate student-athlete, he helped lead the Munciana Volleyball Club to an AAU national championship and Muncie Burris Laboratory High School to two Indiana state high school championships and a combined 79-0 record.
Raised in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, Nelson was introduced to volleyball at an early age. His older sister Meredith Nelson Uram ranked among the top high school recruits in the nation and earned All-America honors as a middle blocker at the University of Minnesota. After beginning his own collegiate journey at Minnesota, where he played on the men's club volleyball team, Nelson played three seasons of Division I men's volleyball as a middle blocker for Ball State University. In his final season, he was named to the AVCA All-America Second Team and ranked fourth nationally in blocks per game. Academically, Nelson graduated summa cum laude after double majoring in accounting and finance. He was also a recipient of the prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship following his time at Ball State and earned his MBA from Kentucky in 2018.
In the program's first incarnation, Vanderbilt participated in the first officially recognized SEC Tournament in 1979, two years before the NCAA's first women's volleyball championship. Vanderbilt's reintroduction of volleyball means all 16 SEC schools will sponsor varsity programs when Oklahoma and Texas join the conference in 2025.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, volleyball has the second-most participants nationally among girls in high school sports and is the second-most popular high school sport for girls in Tennessee, with nearly 7,000 participants. The 2021 NCAA Division I championship match between Nebraska and Wisconsin drew a record 1.19 million viewers on ESPN and a record attendance of 18,755 in Columbus, Ohio.
"For Vanderbilt to fulfill its mission, we must always seek out new opportunities to grow," Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier said. "The hiring of Anders Nelson to lead the reintroduction of our volleyball program is a further proof point of our commitment to move forward boldly. With an established record of excellence on and off the court, he is the ideal person to build a program capable of furthering Nashville and Middle Tennessee's flourishing volleyball community and preparing our student-athletes for the lifelong realization of their potential."
Announcements pertaining to Nelson's staff and other elements of the timeline for implementation will follow in due course.
More details will also follow on media availability and an opportunity to welcome Nelson and his husband, Mark Hemberger, to Vanderbilt.