Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Nelson tough inside off UW bench

After an athlete spends the first few years of her college career warming the bench, she may find that position of sitting next to the coaches each game dressed in a warm-up suit tough to swallow. Some players may even opt to transfer or quit the program as they wonder if they will ever see playing time in the big game before graduating.

UW junior forward Annie Nelson chose a different path. Nelson has experienced not only the tough times of limited minutes, but the satisfaction of proving to herself and others that she was recruited to Wisconsin for good reason.

“After sitting out two years, it kind of did get a little discouraging after a while, but I knew I paid my dues, I did my time in practice, and I felt myself improving everyday over the summer,” Nelson said. “I talked to the coaches a lot and I told them that I really felt that I was ready and that I have improved, and they gave me a chance and went with it.”


Nelson finally got the starting nod from head coach Lisa Stone this season and has started the last 12 games for the Badgers as one of the team’s primary options at power forward along with fellow junior Jordan Wilson.

“She’s gone from a player that came in maybe a little a unnoted, to a player that was a reserve that got very few minutes and worked real hard this summer to get bigger and stronger,” Stone said. “She has earned her way into the starting lineup to the fact she is very fundamental, very hardworking, and very focused.”

After leading her team to a state title at Hudson high school her senior year, Nelson received Associated Press third team all-state honors while averaging 11.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Nelson caught the eye of the UW coaching staff and secured a scholarship to UW, but with upperclassmen Lello Gebisa and Emily Ashbaugh already serving as Wisconsin’s primary post players, Nelson’s minutes were cut to a minimum.

Nelson averaged just 0.7 points and 1.2 rebounds in her first two years at Wisconsin and saw action in just 20 games. Through hard work in the off-season, though, Nelson has not only earned more playing time (she now averages a career-best 26 minutes per game), but she has become more comfortable around the basket.

“Coming into college I never played against people taller than me,” Nelson said. “I definitely improved on finishing around the basket and I lifted a lot of weights the past few years and got a lot stronger.”

What helped Nelson most was constant support from her teammates, especially Wilson, who Nelson goes up against in practice but is also her best friend and roommate.

“She definitely helped me with my confidence,” Nelson said. “I would kind of get down on myself once in a while and Jordan (Wilson) would tell me to just hang in there, your time will come.”

With Nelson finding her way into the starting lineup, Wilson has found it even easier to play alongside someone who knows her game the way Nelson does.

“We know each other on and off the court really well,” Wilson said. “I’ve gotten used to her tendencies, where she wants the ball, what’s she’s going to be doing. It’s just a lot of fun being able to play with a person you know so well.”

Now halfway through this season, Nelson has increased her scoring output to 6.2 points per game. She shattered her previous career-high of four points with a team-high 13 points in a loss at Iowa State earlier this season and has reached double figures in two other games. What may go unnoticed by fans and opponents is Nelson’s willingness and determination to crash the boards for the Badgers. Nelson’s 7.1 rebounds per game are good for best on the team.

“She’s become more of an aggressive, stronger player this year,” Wilson said. “I just think her confidence has risen and she’s been a really big force on the boards and she’s just really taken the opportunity and ran with it and has done a great job producing when she goes out there.”

Overall, Nelson ranks eighth in the conference in rebounding and fourth in offensive rebounds with 2.75 per game, allowing her teammates second chances at the basket.

“Obviously, that does rub off on a team, knowing that if Annie (Nelson) can do it, all of us probably have a shot at doing it,” freshman guard Jolene Anderson said. “The rebounding, that’s a big thing. That’s more opportunities for us guards to go in and get some.”

It’s safe to say that Nelson’s improvement on the court has turned a few heads from the coaches and players.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Stone said. “The whole team’s happy for her. She’s a great example of what happens when you work hard and she never gave up and she never gave in and now she’s one of our mainstays.”

What is even more impressive, considering that Nelson gives up several inches to some of the taller centers in the Big Ten conference and until this season hasn’t been able to get her feet wet against the more physical players in the league, is that each time a ball goes up, Nelson goes right after it. And often, she comes down with it.

“It’s just how you use your body, it doesn’t matter how tall you are,” Nelson said. “It’s just an aspect of the game that if you just work your butt off and work your hardest you’re going to get position for the rebound.”

Nelson has blossomed into one of the top rebounders in the conference, and after watching from the sidelines for two years, she is now a product of what can happen when someone puts forth the extra effort and the hard work.

“I’m excited for Annie. She’s someone that I think is a great example of what the type of player that I’m trying to coach and where we’re trying to go with the program,” Stone said.

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