NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BVM) – Vanderbilt women’s volleyball is in the midst of recruiting for its first year of play which will begin during the 2025-26 season. Hailee Mack – the daughter of former Xavier and Louisville men’s basketball coach Chris Mack – is the first-ever player to verbally commit to play for the Commodores and first-time head coach, Anders Nelson.
Hailee is a 5-foot-11 junior libero/defensive specialist who was named to Prep Volleyball’s top 150 players list. She currently attends Sacred Heart Academy and plays club for Kiva, but will join IMG Academy for its inaugural season in the fall of 2023. She will then join Vanderbilt in the fall of 2024 and redshirt her first season before play officially begins for the history-making program.
Vanderbilt was one of only two Power 5 schools that did not sponsor women’s volleyball (the other one being Oklahoma State) until the Commodores announced it would be adding women’s volleyball nearly one year ago on April 19, 2022.
“I think it’s an honor just to be a small step in the right direction for Vandy athletics and for women’s athletics as a whole,” Hailee said. “I have no doubt Vandy volleyball can be a powerhouse by the time I graduate. I’m excited to get to work and grow the support of women’s athletics at a world-class university.”
Coach Nelson has also noted that he’s very proud to be a part of the larger movement surrounding closing the gap in women’s sports.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a step forward within athletics and female athletics in particular and it’s about time,” Nelson said in a separate interview. “It’s not lost on me what a great opportunity this is. In our staff meetings, I’ll stop and say, ‘Guys, understand what we’re doing.’ We are going to be the very first coaches of a brand new program and there’s only room for one more of these opportunities to come again in the Power 5 if Oklahoma State adds volleyball.”
Hailee hopes that she and the incoming team can make history in the SEC as well.
“Anders knows what it takes to compete and win in a tough conference like the SEC from his experience at Kentucky,” Hailee said. “The same goes for the rest of the coaching staff. I think it would be hard for someone to pass up an opportunity to build a volleyball program from the ground up with the resources and support Vandy Athletics has to offer. We get to set the culture for future teams to come and that’s what I am most excited for.”
The future looks bright for Hailee and Vanderbilt women’s volleyball. She may be a big leader for the team, since after all, she knows all too well what it’s like to be a fierce competitor – thanks to her legendary father, Chris.
“My dad is incredibly proud of me to be able to attend one of the best academic schools in the country and at the same time play in one of the premier leagues in the country for college volleyball,” Hailee said. “He thinks it is what I have worked for and earned. Ever since I was little I was around college athletics. I have seen the hard work that goes into playing and coaching at the highest level.
“I think I understand what it takes to succeed and I am able to see and trust that coach Anders knows what he is doing with the future of Vandy volleyball.”
More on Nelson and Vandy volleyball
Vanderbilt’s women’s volleyball is actually a “reintroduced” program. The school had a varsity team over four decades ago, but it was discontinued after the 1979-80 academic year.
Now, Nelson, alongside assistant coaches Russell Corbelli and Lauren Plum, are tasked with growing the university’s 17th sport. Nelson said, “It was important to surround myself with winners” as each of them have either coached or played in the Final Four.
Nelson spent the past 11 seasons at Kentucky. He most recently served as the Wildcats’ associate head volleyball coach, where he helped lead the program to win the 2020 NCAA National Championship and six consecutive SEC titles. In his most recent seven seasons as associate head coach, Kentucky compiled a 117-11 record in official SEC matches.
“At Kentucky, we had such a cool building experience,” Nelson said. “When I got there, we were finishing top three in the SEC occasionally, but hadn’t won an SEC championship in maybe 30 years and hadn’t got to the Final Four. We didn’t make that jump into the nation’s elite and we were able to get there throughout my career there. I’m obsessed with growing and getting better. Building is the name of the game. I think I’ve learned what athletes it takes to get to the top.”
On the recruiting trail, Nelson is confident in the level of talent that the school can attract.
“I love athletes that I can see potential, the closer to their ceiling, the kind of the less excited I get about an athlete – while understanding that there has to be a baseline level of skill,” Nelson said.
In terms of making history, Nelson has big goals in adding to the rich history of Vanderbilt athletics and the SEC as a whole.
“I want us to never leave sight of the responsibility we have and one of my goals is to make the SEC the best conference in college volleyball,” Nelson said. “It’s not there, it’s probably number two or three in conference performance. So that’s sort of the back of the mind goal this program has is to elevate this program to a level where we’re helping the SEC become the best conference in the country.”
This is only the beginning for Nelson at Vanderbilt. He hopes that when the team is winning championships in 10-15 years from now, he and all the new recruits can look back and say, “Wow, I started that and I played a huge role in where they were able to take that program.” He also wants the team to be the “top female sport on campus.”
In terms of the future, there’s a facility for volleyball play and practice in the works.
“We’ll be practicing and playing in the exciting men’s and women’s practice gym, but it will be revamped with construction starting next summer,” Nelson said. “Basically, men’s and women’s basketball construction has begun on a new practice facility for them. Once that’s complete next summer, they are going to turn their existing practice gym – which is like three basketball courts – into volleyball playing and practice. Our goal is to get 1,500 seats in there to start. A place that’s only ours will be special for the players.”
“I’m not lying when I tell recruits there’s not a better place in the country,” Nelson ended with.