SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — The Cal Poly volleyball program is currently in the midst of some of its best success it has ever seen. A big factor in that success is due to former All-American and all-conference setter Taylor Nelson, who came to Cal Poly in 2014 as the Gatorade California Player of the Year in high school. She helped to transform the culture of the program and went on to help lead the Mustangs to their first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade in 2017 while being named Big West Player of the Year.
Following her graduation from Cal Poly in June of 2018, Nelson packed up to move overseas to begin her first season as a professional volleyball player. Her first stop took her to Bratislava, Slovakia to play for Slavia EU. There, she continued with the success she finished her career with at Cal Poly. Her team won the Slovak Cup and she was voted league MVP as a rookie.
"It was an honor to get that award, especially playing in that league for the first time," Nelson said. "My teammates and coaches were all very welcoming which made living in a foreign country much easier."
Nelson said the experience of living and playing in a foreign country was a big adjustment both as a player and person.
"The hardest part for me last season was the language barrier. Slovak was a very hard language to learn. Most of my teammates spoke English pretty well, but my coach usually spoke in Slovak so players would have to translate for me and the other American on my team."
But it wasn't just with her team she had to adjust. Doing everyday things in a country where she didn't know the language or culture was also a learning experience.
"Simple things like grocery shopping became difficult when everything was in a different language and most of the workers didn't speak English. Google translate became my best friend. It was also so hard being so far away from my family and friends, but the times I would get really homesick I would just remind myself of how lucky I am to be getting paid to do what I love and travel the world."
Despite the big learning curve of a new culture, Nelson said she enjoyed her time playing in Slovakia.
"The city I lived in is the capital of Slovakia so it was bigger than most other cities in the country which I liked. There was a lot to do in the city when we had free time. I also got to travel to cities like Prague, Budapest, and Vienna if we ever had an off weekend."
This summer, Nelson was rewarded for her strong rookie campaign with a two-year contract from USC Munster in Germany. It plays in one of the strongest leagues in the world with some of the top players in the world.
"I've been (in Germany) a little over a week now and I absolutely love it. It's a much higher level of volleyball already and the practices are much more intense, but I love it. I can't wait to see how this season goes."
While Nelson's talent and hard work have gotten her to where she is today, she also credits her time at Cal Poly to helping her become who she is today both on and off the court.
"I'm very thankful for my volleyball experience at Cal Poly for making me the player I am today. I was also fortunate enough to play both indoor and beach, so I was in season pretty much year round. This helped me prepare for my professional career because the volleyball season is eight months long for professionals and it can be pretty hard on your body but I felt very prepared going into my rookie season knowing what I had gone through in my years at Cal Poly."
"I was lucky enough to play for some very knowledgeable coaches who pushed me and challenged me throughout my four years and helped me grow not only as a volleyball player but as a person."
Photo courtesy of Taylor Nelson