Grit. Humility. Heart. Karla Nelson, MSUM Women’s Basketball Coach, Speaks on Coaching With Broken Arm

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By: Griffin Nelson, nelsongr@mnstate.edu

Karla Nelson slipped up.

The MSUM women’s basketball head coach was on a casual walk around the neighborhood with her dog in early January when she happened upon a patch of ice over by Moorhead’s Woodlawn Park.

The ice won, as she so eloquently put it.

A broken left arm has put Nelson in a cast, something that has taken some getting used to.

“It’s humbled me,” Nelson said. “I’m not the most patient person, so it’s been a little frustrating.”

For the basketball program Nelson pilots, there’s been steady footing so far this season.

The Dragons sit atop the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, with a 13-1 conference record and a 17-3 record overall. They have won 15 of their last 16 games, their only loss coming at the hands of second-place Minnesota Duluth this past weekend. The Dragons hold a two-game lead over the Bulldogs heading into next weekend. They will get a chance at revenge against Duluth on senior night, Feb. 13.

Nelson is surprised by how the Dragons have defended as a whole during the season and how players have gained confidence working through individual struggles. Despite boasting a 14-game winning streak, now snapped by Duluth, Nelson says the team has had to battle for every victory.

“I felt like last year’s (16-game winning streak), we were winning pretty,” Nelson said. “We’ve had to grit a lot of things out this year. That being said, this team is more prepared for when things aren’t going their way or when games get ugly. They’ve shown the ability to step up in those situations, which is big.”

The Dragons are well on their way to a fourth straight 20-win season under the leadership of Nelson. Sustained success in something every program looks for, but few rarely achieve.

“The key is in how disciplined the players become,” Nelson said. “How disciplined they prepare for practice. That’s what really prepares you for the games. It’s simple, but sometimes gets to be difficult. It can’t just be a few members of the team, or even just the leaders. You have to have 100 percent buy-in.”

Nelson expects to be in a cast for the remainder of the regular season. Though daily life has proven impeded by the injury—yes, she’s a lefty—she says it has had no effect on her coaching or the team’s approach.

“I always tell our players if you’re hurt, don’t practice. If you’re practicing, you’re not hurt,” Nelson said of how she has approached her injury. “If I’m going to practice, I can’t let this phase me.”

Put aside Nelson’s injury and the Dragons’ roster has stayed relatively healthy this season.

“We have a good athletic training staff,” Nelson said. “Our head athletic trainer Andrea Scott takes really good care of them. And of course, luck plays into it. There’ve been a lot of injuries in the conference this year. We’ve been fortunate, knock on wood.”

In the meantime, Nelson is adjusting to life without the full use of her dominant hand. She offered up a formidable challenge to all.

“Go home and try to put bed sheets on without your dominant hand.” Nelson laughed. “It’s dang near impossible!”

Next up, the Dragons travel East to take on Minnesota State University Mankato on Feb. 1.

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