Volleyball: Melissa Elmer
Posted: Wednesday December 14, 2005 6:21PM; Updated: Thursday December 15, 2005 12:19PM
When Nebraska middle blocker Melissa Elmer arrived on the campus as a freshman, she thought her high school success would carry over to the college level. She couldn't have been more wrong. The best way to describe that first year is that it was a "learning experience." Though she was 6-foot-2, she lacked the strength and agility to play at the level of her teammates. She had trouble keeping up in team drills and was asked to leave practice one day because she slowed everyone down. Ultimately, she redshirted that first year, spending most of her time watching, training in the weight room and waiting for her opportunity.
Four years later, Elmer not only participates in all the practices and games, but also is one of the best players in the long and successful tradition of Nebraska volleyball. She owns a handful of team records and leads the Cornhuskers (32-1) into the Final Four in San Antonio this weekend in search of a national championship. But the struggles of her freshman year are not far from her mind.
"I just wasn't as used to the speed of the game," Elmer recalls. "I wasn't coordinated enough to be consistent. I was on the sidelines quite a bit. I'm definitely a different player now than back then. I got to watch. It's unbelievable how much I learned."
Regardless of whether or not Nebraska wins the national title, Elmer has one honor she can be proud of: our U Award for women's volleyball. Since redshirting that first year, she has been one of the best players in the nation. She is a two-time All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. She also is the first player in Big 12 history to record 200 or more blocks in consecutive seasons, leads the nation with 2.15 blocks per game and holds Nebraska's single-season (238) and career (686) blocking records.
But her individual accomplishments only tell half the story. Nebraska has held onto the top spot in the national rankings the entire season (55 straight weeks, including last year). Twelve of the Huskers' 32 wins came against ranked opponents and they boast a perfect 16-0 record at home. Elmer is quick to point out that she is just one cog in a powerful machine and her teammates -- particularly Christina Housteling, Sarah Pavan and Jennifer Saleaumua -- are as responsible for the team's success as she is.
"Everyone comes into practice every day, pushing to get everyone better," Elmer said. "Any individual honor anyone gets; the first thing that person does is mention the team. That just shows how much we depend on each other."
They'll be depending on each othermore than ever this weekend at the Final Four, where Elmer will try and win the only thing that has alluded her throughout her successful career. She is also graduating on Saturday, though she'll be unable to attend the ceremony. Although she's unsure of her plans for after graduation, Elmer has a good idea of her short term plans, which involve some time alone with her couch and television.
"You name just about any MTV show and I'll sit there and watch it all day if I could," she says. "I love reality TV."
Sam Tortorello, Penn State. Tortorello, a senior setter, was named the Big Ten Player of the Year and earned All-American honors for the third consecutive year. She finishes her career in Happy Valley with the second-most assists (6,085) in school history. Although Penn State won the Big Ten title with a perfect 20-0 conference record (31-3 overall), the Nittany Lions' quest for a national championship came to an abrupt end with a loss to Tennessee in the NCAA quarterfinals.