PHOTO BY PFEIFFER ATHLETICS / SEAN MEYERS

'Let's Make it a Good Day for the Nelsons'


Jared Nelson was initially confused when Pfeiffer men’s lacrosse coach Tucker Nelson, his older brother, called him over to the sideline. The fifth-year senior attackman had just notched his eighth point of the afternoon on an extra-man assist to extend the Falcons’ lead to 16-1 against Averett on April 10.

But there was still more than 10 minutes to play. In the second quarter. 

“Why am I out?” Jared asked Tucker.

“That’s your 400th point,” Tucker replied. “Congrats, buddy!”

“I knew I was close, but I didn’t know I was quite there yet,” Jared Nelson recalled last week. “It was kind of neat to actually have it be a surprise.” 

In a spring that’s felt like a series of welcome surprises for the Nelson family, it’s easy to understand how Jared Nelson lost track of his points total. In 2019 (his most prolific season before this year), he set a Pfeiffer record and was named USA South Player of the Year with 113 points in 16 games. He’s needed just 11 games in 2021 to put up 104 points on 29 goals and 75 assists. He leads all of Division III in assists (6.82) and points (9.45) per game and has outpaced even Tufts’ Mac Bredahl, US Lacrosse Magazine’s Division III Men’s Preseason Player of the Year, by 1.05 points an outing. 

“Jared’s definitely an overachiever,” said his father, Scott Nelson, who coached him his first three years at Pfeiffer. 

A little more than a year after Jared Nelson thought his college lacrosse career might be over, he’s on the precipice of history while facilitating the nation’s No. 7 scoring offense. Pfeiffer (10-1, 8-0 USA South) averages 21 goals per game and will enter the conference tournament on a nine-game winning streak. 

Since Nelson broke into the 400-point club that previously only featured seven players (including Lyle Thompson), he hasn’t slowed down. He finished with four goals and seven assists in the first half alone against Averett. He tallied 30 points in three subsequent games, all double-digit wins for Pfeiffer. 

Nelson’s blistering pace — he now sits fourth all-time at 434 career points — puts him on track to pass Salisbury great Jason Coffman’s 451-point mark during the conference tournament, which begins this Saturday when Pfeiffer hosts Greensboro in the first round. 

In the Falcons’ previous two games against Greensboro, Nelson had 17 points. 

“If you watch some of our games, you can see how some of these guys on our team shoot the ball,” Jared Nelson said. “They get open, they get in good spots and I kind of just put it there and they do the rest of the work. So I can't take too much of that credit.”


“They’re all pretty tough, and they’re all pretty coachable. I think they got that from their mom.”


***

At around 9 a.m. each Saturday, Lynne Nelson texts Tucker and Jared, their middle brother Jake and her husband Scott the same thing: “Let’s make it a good day for the Nelsons.” 

There have been quite a few of them in 2021. 

Jake Nelson leads Le Moyne, currently ranked No. 2 in the Nike / US Lacrosse Division II Men’s Top 20, with 22 points and scored a game winner against Bentley with 47 seconds remaining in overtime on April 17. The overtime goal was the first and only play Tucker Nelson saw when he turned on the stream after Pfeiffer defeated Methodist 27-12 the same day. 

“It was about time you showed up,” Tucker Nelson joked with his brother afterward. 

The win preserved the Dolphins’ undefeated season entering the Northeast-10 quarterfinals Saturday as the No. 2 seed. (Saint Anselm, also undefeated, is the top seed with 10 wins to Le Moyne’s eight.)

A graduate transfer attackman who played his first season of college lacrosse in 2016 at Binghamton, Jake Nelson has had a winding path to this point. He spent a year at Mercer and three more at Syracuse. “It’s the best thing that could have happened to him,” Scott Nelson said of the opportunity at Le Moyne. 

Scott Nelson has been able to watch his middle son thrive up close on a daily basis. After a 38-year coaching career which included three NCAA Division III championships at Nazareth and stops at Brown, Marist, Binghamton and most recently Pfeiffer, the Nelson family patriarch planned to turn his attention to the links and the house at the Savannah Lakes Village that he and Lynne designed right off the 15th tee of the golf course on South Carolina’s Freshwater Coast.

That was until he noticed an opening for an assistant position on Dan Sheehan’s staff for the 2021 season. 

“I fill the water bottles and I cut the oranges up for halftime and those guys do all the other work,” Scott Nelson joked.








He mostly coaches the defense but noted he can’t help but take a peek at the other side of the field during practice to see how Jake’s doing. He called the experience this spring a silver lining. 

“It’s pretty awesome to see him finally get the chance to do what I know he could do,” Jared Nelson added about his brother, who set the Vestal (N.Y.) High School program record with 293 career points and was the 31st-ranked attackman by Inside Lacrosse in the class of 2015. 

At Vestal, Jake Nelson took on more of a dodging role while Jared Nelson developed his off-ball skills. The latter credited the former for offering a better vision of how to become a playmaker once he got to college. 

But for all Jared Nelson’s obvious skills on the field, the kid who’d get thrown in the backyard goal and have to stare down a barrage of tennis balls stands out most for his toughness.

“He gets beat on game after game, never complains, gets up, and goes and plays the next play,” Tucker Nelson said. 

“They’re all pretty tough, and they’re all pretty coachable,” Scott Nelson added about his sons. “I think they got that from their mom.” 

Lynne Nelson (née Stever) broke a national scoring record in soccer at Nazareth with 98 goals in four seasons and was recognized in Sports Illustrated's "Faces In The Crowd.” At the Nelsons’ wedding, Scott’s brother, three-time Syracuse All-American and 2012 National Lacrosse Hall of Fame inductee Tim Nelson, told him, “I hope your kids get your game sense but your wife’s athletic ability.” 

Tucker Nelson calls his mom the most competitive member of their family “by far.” Scott Nelson still remembers on a car ride to a basketball game when Lynne turned around and told her younger boys, “You’ve got five fouls. Use four of them.” Jake and Jared were in middle school. 

Like Jake, Jared committed to Binghamton, where Tucker set the program record for assists in three seasons after following his dad from Marist. Jared always dreamed of playing for his dad. So when Scott Nelson’s time at Binghamton ended after five seasons leading the Bearcats, it took about “10 seconds” for Jared to tell his dad he’d follow him wherever he went next. 

That turned out to be Misenheimer, North Carolina. 

“I wouldn't do anything different if I could go back,” Jared Nelson said. 




PHOTO BY PFEIFFER ATHLETICS / SEAN MEYERS


***

The decision last spring on whether to return for a fifth year took a bit longer. 

But over the couple weeks after the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Jared Nelson thought about all he had been through the previous four years helping rebuild the Pfeiffer program from the ground up — or as he called it, “hell and back.” 

He thought about the Falcons’ 18-player roster in 2017 that still managed to finish 7-9 with a schedule against the likes of Limestone and Belmont Abbey. The transition from Division II Conference Carolinas to Division III. The 2-4 start in 2020 in Tucker’s first year at the helm.

A team captain since his sophomore season, Jared Nelson wanted to help his brother continue building what they started. 

Jared and Tucker Nelson had just started the back nine at McCanless Golf Club, where rounds cost $15, last March when Tucker found out through an email from Pfeiffer athletic director Danielle Lafferty that spring athletes would receive a blanket eligibility waiver. 

“Ahhh, I guess I’ll come back,” Jared told Tucker, trying to mask his enthusiasm. 

Tucker Nelson then got to work fine tuning what’s turned into a juggernaut this spring. He addressed many of the team’s weaknesses through the transfer portal. There’s Victor, N.Y., native Tucker Hill, who previously played at Monroe Community College and has won 66.4 percent of his faceoffs this spring. Corey Choberka, a midfielder from SUNY Brockport who played with Jared Nelson at Vestal, registered seven goals and four assists two weekends ago. Redshirt-junior goalie Matt Stocks (Barton College) has stopped 55.9 percent of the shots he’s faced. Mike Turner (Roanoke) and Cody Stevenson (Catawba) add a physicality to the defense. 

That infusion of talent has coincided with the team’s continued development, particularly at the attack. Sophomore Quinn Becraft’s 6.50 goals per game are the second most in Division III, and Jared Nelson said the lefty helps take a lot of the pressure off. Senior John Allen (51 goals,10 assists) set a USA South single-game goals record with nine last weekend. He knocked Jared Nelson out of the top spot. 

“We want to be as dynamic as possible,” Tucker Nelson said of the free-flowing offense that he's constantly tinkering with and learned from his dad should be predicated upon giving players the freedom to run by their defenders. 

Tucker and Jared Nelson’s interactions on the field have evolved since Tucker joined his dad's staff at Pfeiffer as an assistant in 2016. He called the dynamic “interesting,” at first. After Jared’s second collegiate game against Mars Hill, Tucker realized he couldn’t copy and paste the same motivations his dad used with him. He learned to take a more hands-on approach in the development stage rather than worrying about controlling every detail during the game. They started holding “individuals,” or fundamental skill sessions, that continue to this day and now include the whole position group. 

“They’re so committed, this attack,” Tucker Nelson said. “They’re here every single day.” 

Jared Nelson described the relationship being coached by his brother as “two completely different things” depending if they’re on or off the field. But no matter how many points he puts up or how far Pfeiffer gets in its quest to claim the first NCAA tournament bid in program history, some things won’t change. 

“He never has a say in any of the drills,” Tucker Nelson said. “He likes to think he does sometimes, though.”