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Healthy now, Century grad Lund a major building block for Illinois State

Nicole Lund was an honorable-mention All-State volleyball player at Rochester Century. Now, she is a second-year player at Division I Illinois State and flourishing.

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Illinois State redshirt freshman Nicole Lund (far right) has been a driving force early this season for the Redbirds. Lund is a Rochester Century 2019 graduate. (Photo courtesy of Illinois State)

Coming to an understanding of life’s nuances on and off the volleyball court is no major challenge for Nicole Lund.

She won’t tell you that, but it’s true of the Illinois State redshirt freshman and starting middle hitter.

Lund’s quick-study ways have been predictable. She was a star volleyball player and student at Rochester Century. And now in her second year at Illinois State, nothing has changed.

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Lund, who’s coming off a match in which she had a stellar 10 blocks, is equally tearing things up in the classroom, complete with a 3.97 grade-point average.
About the only two major adjustments that Lund has had to make are coming to terms with being coached “hard” and dealing with a major injury. The latter happened in early October of her true freshman year, when Lund took a roaring serve to the side of the head in a practice and was concussed.

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She spent the next two months with constant headaches and an aversion to bright lights, two common symptoms of concussions. It was enough to sideline her for the entire season and ultimately made that first year a redshirt year.

“When you’re in that feeling (of headaches), it feels like it is never going to go away,” Lund said. “For the first couple of weeks, I’d just lay in my dorm room trying to get better. “

Then there was the matter of getting coached “hard.” That came from Illinois State coach Leah Johnson and was new to Lund.

OPEN ARMS TO LEARNING

Johnson’s directness is actually something that Lund has come to appreciate most about the fourth-year coach. But it wasn’t that way at first. At least Johnson sure didn’t think so.

Lund had to put away her sensitivity.

“Those first couple of days of practice (last year), Nicole would feel bad when I’d coach her hard,” Johnson said. “She’d hardly say a word to me after I’d get on her. What I want is a response that shows you’re ‘owning it.’ I want my players to know that I am not mad (at them), but to look at me and accept what I’m saying, to know that they are not great at something and then lean into it and get better.”

Lund is leaning in these says. It helps that the headaches are gone and any difficulty with Johnson’s directness has also disappeared. In short, she’s now regarded by Johnson as one of her best and most important players.

And while Johnson doesn’t pick favorites, the 6-foot-2 Lund would be an easy choice right now. Johnson appreciates pretty much everything about her, including that she’s one of the kinder players she’s been around.

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The entire package, it’s there.

“Nicole is easy to coach,” Johnson said. “She has that ‘Minnesota nice.’ She takes feedback well. She has a very calm way of being. She is receptive and processes things so well. She will even go as far as to say, ’Thank you for telling me that.’ The big picture is that she wants to get better.”

Lund is getting better and doing it with a familiar face literally right next to her. That is Stewartville graduate and first-year Illinois State player Kaitlyn Prondzinski. The two played volleyball together for three years as high schoolers, for the Southern Minnesota Volleyball Club.

Now, they’re together again, this time as Division I college teammates. Better still, both are starting for the Redbirds, Lund as a middle hitter and Prondzinski right next to her as an outside hitter.

That familiarity has been a blessing for both and has led to good things on the court. In Monday’s 3-0 victory against Bradley, that southeastern Minnesota connection combined for 16 blocks, Lund with a team-high 10 and Prondziski second with six. In Saturday’s impressive 3-2 win over 20th-ranked Marquette, they were also productive, each with seven kills and Lund adding six blocks.

Lund said that she’s benefitted from having one season to watch matches unfold from the sidelines. The speed of the college game takes time to adjust to and so does understanding the many directions that volleyballs are coming at her at the Division I level.

But having Prondzinski next to her has been an aid, and certainly vice versa. Each other’s presence is a comfort for them both.

“It’s super fun having Kaitlyn here and it is another comfort,” Lund said. “It helps knowing how each other plays.”

Related Topics: VOLLEYBALL
Pat has been a Post Bulletin sports reporter since 1994. He covers Rochester John Marshall football, as well as a variety of other southeastern Minnesota football teams. Among my other southeastern Minnesota high school beats are girls basketball, boys and girls tennis, boys and girls track and field, high school and American Legion baseball, volleyball, University of Minnesota sports (on occasion) and the Timberwolves (on occasion). Readers can reach Pat at 507-285-7723 or pruff@postbulletin.com.
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