COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Feb. 18, 2016) – This weekend’s U.S. Women’s National Team Open Tryouts being held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs serve as a great reminder that childhood dreams can come true.
For many of the 225 athletes attending the tryout, the dream of playing in the Olympics fuels their fire from the youngest age to get better. Over the past decade, the Open Tryouts has aided those dreams with a vast majority of athletes from the past two Olympics having participated in at least one tryout in Colorado Springs.
For others, being invited to take part in the Olympic process and tryout at the Olympic Training Center is a dream come true – regardless whether they make the National Team or the U.S. Collegiate National Team. Once arriving at the Olympic Training Center, each of the athletes kick into overdrive what they can offer whether it is for the National Team, the Collegiate National Team or their own confidence level to play at the next level after college.
One such case that meets all those dreams is Clemson’s Keelie Arneson. She was recruited as an all-state setter to Northwestern State University by then head coach Hugh Hernesman, who promptly converted her to libero. She went on to set NSU single-season records for digs in each of her first three seasons. By the end of her junior season, she was the school record holder in digs and was the Southland Conference Libero of the Year.
However, Arneson’s path to success came to an abrupt halt on Sept. 26, 2014 – one day before her 11th match of her senior season. On a scheduled off-day to rest her knee, she decided she wanted to get more reps in because she wasn’t satisfied with her most recent match. Early on during the light drill, Arneson ruptured her Achilles tendon and believed her collegiate career was over.
“Rupturing my Achilles in practice was one of the most devastating moments of my life, I didn’t know what the future held for my volleyball career,” Arneson said.
The silver lining of the injury was the timing – had the injury happened one day later, her career would have been over because she would have played in too many matches to apply for a medical redshirt. Arneson, feeling the injury happened for a reason, was determined to make a comeback and was back on the court in February.
Not long after, Hernesman left NSU to take the job at Clemson, which had its previous libero graduate. Arneson saw opportunity in the making to live her dream of competing in a power five conference. She was granted a transfer to Clemson and made the most of her opportunity.
At Clemson, she continued to pile up stats against better competition. She led the ACC in digs average at 5.24 per set and was 18th in the country. Without the injury, Arneson may not have cracked the NCAA’s top five list of all-time career dig leaders as she ended with 2,707.
“Little did I know this injury would lead me to Clemson,” Arneson said. “It made me realize with hard work and determination I can overcome almost anything and because of that I have been blessed with many opportunities that I never thought were possible. I truly believe everything happens for a reason.”
Not only did this injury present the opportunity for Arneson to live a dream by competing at Clemson and solidify herself as one of the best liberos in NCAA volleyball history, her success at the ACC level has bolstered her confidence and belief that she can pursue a professional career whether that is competing for Team USA or professionally overseas.
“I’m really excited to try out, It’s something I’ve really wanted to do for a long time and the fact that I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it this year is amazing,” Arneson said. “I’m not going into it with high expectations, but I’m just going out there to try my hardest and I want to walk off knowing that I gave it my all and be happy with the way I played.
“I’ve been working out every day while doing rehab for my ankle. I’ve been practicing with the team and getting some extra reps in with Coach Steph (Hernesman). I’m feeling pretty good and I feel like I’m ready. I’m just really excited to see the competition and play with some of the best athletes in the U.S. I’m also looking forward to getting to work with Leah (Perri). She’s one of my great friends, so that’s really exciting.”