By: Ethan Fuller
No one helped turn around Boston University women’s basketball quite like Katie Nelson.
The senior guard started all 102 games played during her four seasons in a Terrier uniform. Nelson averaged a whopping 37.2 career minutes per game and embodied endurance. She sat for just 17 total minutes as a junior. If BU had a rock during the last four years — which featured a coaching change, a pandemic, and the program’s best season in over a decade — it was Nelson.
She finishes 15th in school history with 1,117 career points, seventh with 376 assists, fifth with 189 made three-pointers and fourth with 3,798 career minutes — all despite a shortened senior year.
But Nelson’s basketball journey hasn’t ended yet. Using her fifth year of eligibility, she is grad transferring to Wisconsin. Nelson will follow head coach Marisa Moseley and assistant Kate Barnosky to Madison and make the leap to Big Ten play.
I talked to Nelson about her career at BU, her evolution as a college basketball player, and the lead-up to her transfer decision.
EF: How did you arrive at the decision to transfer?
KN: It’s been a long road — very crazy. Just with how things ended this season, and so abruptly with Coach Mo [Moseley] getting the opportunity to go to Wisconsin, it made me take a step back and think about other opportunities that I might be able to take. I always wanted to play for Coach Mo for a fourth year, so putting that in my back pocket and just considering the possible chance to go with her is something I thought about right away.
I just kind of had to wait for the right timing and go through the process of [transferring], and I was fortunate for their to be a spot open for me to go. I asked Coach Moseley of the possible chances, and it ended up all working out. So I’m super stoked.
EF: What does it mean for you to not only get an extra year to play college hoops, but to also get the chance to play in the Big Ten?
KN: I feel so lucky, in a way, that COVID happened. To receive a fifth year is something that doesn’t always happen in normal circumstances. In a way, I feel it was a blessing in disguise to receive a fifth year and utilize it in the way that I am. I’m so incredibly excited to see what’s going to happen.
Going from the Patriot League to the Big Ten is a big jump, but having Coach Moseley and Coach KB [Barnosky] go there with me is extremely comforting. I know that Coach Moseley always has my best interests at heart, and I’m just super excited to have a whole new experience in a different place, with new teammates and new competition.
EF: What was the timeline, from when you found out Coach Moseley was moving on, to when you made the decision to go to Wisconsin?
KN: The news coming out definitely wasn’t how it was supposed to be planned. I know there was supposed to be a team meeting the next day, and it was supposed to be very formal, with incoming freshmen, and just making sure we all had the time to talk about it and that Coach Mo was prepared.
But with it being leaked, it definitely was extremely sudden. We randomly got a Zoom call saying we needed to have a [team] Zoom call in five minutes [and] can everyone hop on? I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t go in thinking anything, but as soon as Coach Moseley shared the news of this incredible opportunity, I kind of was in a whirlwind of emotions.
I was definitely devastated at first because it caught me extremely off guard. At the same time, I couldn’t have been more happy for her. To have that opportunity — you can’t not take that. So after, I kind of had a night to sit back and really feel the emotions I was feeling. I talked to my family about it; I talked to a few teammates just about how everyone was feeling. With me already playing four years at Boston University and graduating this May, it seemed like a wonderful chance to see what new possibilities could be.
So that happened Thursday night [March 25], and then within the next couple days and the following week, I met with Kristie [Bowers, Senior Associate Director of Athletics] and Drew [Marrochello, Director of Athletics] and just had some discussions about possible next steps for me, and then entered the portal. Shortly after entering the portal, then just reaching out to Coach Moseley and asking, what are the chances of [transferring to Wisconsin]? And seeing what I was able to actually do if I could go to Wisconsin.
Luckily enough, there were spots for scholarships open, and Coach Moseley — I’m lucky she’s able to take me there with her. So it happened very fast.
EF: Two days before all of this goes down, did you have a plan for your next steps?
KN: I was originally planning to come back to Boston University for a fifth year, and get my Master’s, and play for the team for one more year in Boston for Coach Moseley and her staff. That was the original plan. So two days before the news broke, I wasn’t even questioning what was going to happen next year.
EF: You played, almost literally, all the time. What went on behind the scenes for conditioning and mental stamina?
KN: Coming in my freshman year, I was lucky enough to work really hard in the summer and be the starting point guard for the team. So just going in with that mentality that I have to play for my teammates. I really wanted the team to be successful, and for us to improve our record and build a championship program.
Behind the scenes, it just was a lot of hard work every single day, challenging my teammates to get better, and endurance is a part of that. We do conditioning in the summer and in the fall, but I think just getting used to it was one thing. I remember after the first game my freshman year, we had practice the next day and I was so sore. My arms were sore. And I was like, what, how are my arms sore right now?
After each game, obviously recovery is a huge piece — making sure that I’m in the athletic training room. Our trainer, Steph, is the best. She’s super helpful with recovery and anything that we might need. She’s always there for us and making sure that I’m fueling my body correctly, hydrating [and] stretching.
And that mental toughness that I think I’ve developed over the last four years is kind of the stamina that comes along with it. Coach Mo talks about [how] you can do way more than your body thinks. Your mind is always tougher than your body and your body tires out before your mind. So just being able to push myself through that, and being on the floor as much as I am — I wouldn’t want anything less. Playing all the time was so much fun, and helping out the team as much as I could was something that I really focused on.
EF: You’re known for being extremely level-headed and calm on the court. What were some of the challenges you faced at BU that we didn’t get to see?
KN: Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is something I’ve had to work on from my freshman year to now, and looking back, I’ve definitely done that. It’s only made me better. I’ve never been the loudest, but I’m not the quietest, and I think my energy comes in a different way than some of my teammates. I think being a leader has definitely been an incredible opportunity, and I’ve had to earn that role.
I’ve only been improving my leadership skills, from my freshman year to now. Just facing adversity and coming out on the end stronger, [and] just always being there for my teammates. I think they know that I’m putting in 110 percent every single day, so they trust in me and trust that I want the best for the team, and am working just as hard — if not harder — than they are to make sure we’re achieving our goals.
EF: Between you and seniors Mackenzie Miers and Tenisha Pressley, you’ve gone through a pretty wild journey together. What do you take away from the experience of getting to do this with them?
KN: Mackenzie and Tenisha are my absolute ride-or-dies. We always talk about looking back from our freshman year to now, and how there’s no possible chance we would have made it without each other. I think we’ve leaned on each other through the highs as well as the lows, and just going through that first year — it was a difficult year and a difficult transition for us all.
And having to go through a new coaching staff and new coaching style — I always say that I had two freshman years, because it was relearning everything all over again. New expectations, new roles, new communications and trust, and just getting used to things, which was interesting.
So Mackenzie and Tenisha, they have been such incredible friends and teammates. I can always lean on them, and it’s been really awesome to see how we’ve grown, not only on the court, but as people. I know they’re going to be long-term friends for me, and I’m really lucky.
EF: What was the hardest part about this pandemic-influenced year?
KN: The hardest part for me was the uncertainty of it all. We came in every single day not knowing what to expect — not knowing if practice was going to happen, not knowing if a game was going to actually happen.
We had a few times where we’d practice Friday, and after it, we were told that we weren’t going to be playing that weekend. Just to be able to adapt is something I’ve learned to do very well — just ride the wave and not expect too much, and be very level-headed, and just try to be grateful for the opportunities we did have this year. As we saw my junior year, we didn’t know when [the season] was going to end, and it ended very abruptly.
So just making sure that I’m taking advantage of every single day and embracing the uncertainty. And relying on my teammates, because they came in every single day, too, working very hard and not knowing what expect. I think we were able to lean on each other to get through this year, but it was very difficult, mentally. It was actually quite exhausting, to be honest. But I couldn’t have asked for a better team to go through that with, and I think we came out a lot stronger.
EF: What do you consider to be your proudest moment at BU?
KN: Often times, I think that when we think of proud moments, we think of the wins. One win that really does stand out was the Holy Cross game [Alumni game, Jan. 26, 2020] with all the alumni, and the atmosphere, and coming back after being down around 18 points. We always talk about playing for those who came before us, so to have them in the stands was just super motivating, and to share that moment with them was incredible.
But I also think the most proud moment was the championship game, for me. After it ended, it was obviously devastating that we weren’t able to secure the win and move on, but it took me a second in the locker room to sit back and talk to the team and be like — I am so incredibly proud of every single person. This season was so difficult, and we sacrificed a lot as a team and a program. Just with the rules that we had to face — not many teams had to do that, because we wanted to put ourselves in the best position to play as many games as possible.
Looking back to my freshman year, the growth that the program’s had is just a testament to the classes before me and the classes under me. Just taking a step back and looking at myself and knowing what I accomplished — it was a really proud moment for me.
EF: What lesson do you want to take with you from BU to Wisconsin?
KN: Be in the moment and enjoy it. Often times I look to far ahead at what’s coming next, or I think about what happened and forget about the moment I’m in. So just making sure I enjoy every single moment of [next year] because it’s going to fly by. I already know it.
And just be the hardest worker in the room. If anyone is taller than me or faster than me or anything like that, just making sure no one is going to outwork me. And if that’s the case, then I know I’ll be successful in whatever I do.
This interview has been edited and condensed.