From the ground up: Anders Nelson’s vision for Vanderbilt Volleyball

The story of how the first-time head coach plans to build something great at Vanderbilt.
Anders Nelson posing for a photo in downtown Nashville on May. 10, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Anders Nelson posing for a photo in downtown Nashville on May. 10, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)
Vanderbilt Athletics

“Why be next when you can be first?”

Anders Nelson has quickly become familiar with the challenges of building something new. From an uphill recruiting battle to creating buzz about his team ahead of the 2025-26 season, Nelson has become a man of many hats as the face of Vanderbilt’s new volleyball program. Despite the challenges, though, Nelson has continued to lean on his wealth of personality and experiences to grow something bigger than himself.

“You can look at it as we have nothing done and there is so much to do, where it’s almost daunting,” Nelson said. “Or, you can look at it as we can do things right and exactly how we want to. That’s been the best part of building on a clean slate.”

Nelson is not a stranger to building things the right way, either. Before being announced as Vanderbilt’s first volleyball head coach since the 1979-80 season, the coach enjoyed 11 successful seasons at the University of Kentucky. Starting as an assistant coach before being moved to the role of associate head coach, Nelson helped transform the Wildcats from a prominent SEC foe to a perennial national championship contender. In 2021, Kentucky won the SEC’s first volleyball national title. 

“The thing I keep coming back to about why I enjoyed it so much is really the building process,” Nelson said. “Getting to improve every year and continuing to climb the ladder of our goals is something I really looked forward to.”

Nelson noted that he has had many mentors on his path to becoming an SEC head coach, but none have been more influential than Kentucky head coach Craig Skinner. In leading Nelson and the Wildcats since 2004, Skinner has taken Kentucky to 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments and enjoyed levels of success unmatched by any SEC head coach in history. For Nelson, learning under someone as accomplished and influential as Skinner has allowed the young head coach to learn the nuances of building a budding program. 

“If you just consume yourself with wins and losses, it’s an emotional rollercoaster and it’s very difficult to be consistent for those around you,” Nelson said. “If you find a bigger purpose it makes it easier to embrace the grind every year; mine is definitely getting athletes to reach their potential, and that’s why I was so drawn to this job.”

Despite interest elsewhere, Nelson knew that Vanderbilt was the place he wanted to start his journey as a head coach. For him, Vanderbilt brought together the ideal combination of factors and support needed for a first-time head coach. 

“It just seemed like the right opportunity for me. I had a few other opportunities from other schools, but nothing else really felt right,” Nelson said. “This one definitely jumped out at me because of the prestige of the university, getting to live in Nashville and the opportunity to be in the SEC. It was a great lesson for me: that being patient and seeing something through can lead to greater success down the road.”

With all the challenges of recruiting and planning a program ahead of him, Nelson shared that his best guidance came from a prominent member of Vanderbilt’s athletic department, consulting none other than Vanderbilt Baseball Head Coach Tim Corbin. Since taking over in 2003, Corbin has built Vanderbilt Baseball to be much of the same powerhouse as Skinner’s Kentucky — something that Nelson eagerly hopes to emulate.

“He’s built such a great culture and brand of the VandyBoys to the point where you know exactly what his players are like just by the uniform they wear,” Nelson said. “Leaning into him when learning about culture building and what things from his program we can take to ours has been important.”

With a head coach and program firmly in place, figuring out Vanderbilt’s first class of volleyball recruits in over 50 years was the next step. Nelson noted that despite the long leadup to the program’s launch in the Fall 2025 season, Vanderbilt was still a bit behind the eight ball in recruiting because of the early nature of volleyball recruiting. By the time Nelson had taken the Vanderbilt job, most of the top-100 recruits of the class of 2024 had already committed. Despite the obstacle, Nelson and his team of coaches saw it as an opportunity to get the good-character, high-potential recruits in the program. 

“Our job became more about finding the right people and the right fit, but also those that were ‘sleepers,’ or late bloomers in a sense,” Nelson said. “We wanted to target people that we saw a lot of potential in; we have a year to redshirt them [in the 2024-25 academic year], so that allowed us to take some great athletes whose best volleyball is still ahead of them.”

Head coach Anders Nelson gives a presentation on Volleyball to a group of Vanderbilt supporters on Nov. 2, 2023. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Along with trying to build a winning team as early as possible, it was as important to Nelson to build a strong culture that could sustain success as Vanderbilt. After all, lumps and growing pains are inevitable for a young, growing program.

“In terms of the character standpoint, that was almost more important,” Nelson said. “We’re starting our culture from scratch here, and if we didn’t get the right people, we could set ourselves back as a program from where we want to be 5, 10 or 15 years from now.”

Despite the obvious worries that could come with joining a brand-new program, Nelson said that he and his staff have used it as a selling point for recruits. After all, finding people that were eager to embrace the challenges of a new journey was equally important to Nelson when he was trying to find talent. 

“We needed to find people who weren’t scared to do things for the first time,” Nelson said. “There’s an opportunity to build a legacy, and we told our recruits that after our first match, they’re already going to be in the record books as Vanderbilt’s career kills leaders.” 

With so much ahead of him and his program, there are certain to be challenges in the road that lies ahead. For Nelson, though, building the right way is all part of the journey. After all, his entire career has prepared him for this exact moment.

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About the Contributor
Anish Mago, Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
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