With the Washington Monument standing tall in the distance and the Lincoln Memorial in plain view, touring the monuments in Washington D.C. would not be an unlikely guess for a Sunday afternoon plan.
Unless you’re Claire Nagelhout. Instead of gazing at a 100-foot statue of our 16th president, Nagelhout spends her time in the nation’s capital running through a pit of sand, diving for a ball coming over a net while grains of sand stick to her body as spectators look on.
The Lincoln Memorial Sand Volleyball Courts are located in the heart of Washington D.C., just steps away from some of this country’s greatest historical monuments. Nagelhout, however, isn’t too concerned with the history of American presidents. Only her own, on the court.
When she was only 16 years old, Nagelhout competed in her own sort of national monument—the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships.
Nagelhout said while her team had always been good in the past, it was really able to step it up going into the season when she was in the 16-year-old division, which ultimately led to her team earning the second place medal in the national division.
“I don’t want to say it was a surprise, because I feel like we knew we were that good, but we definitely were excited that we could make it that far,” Nagelhout said. “We could have definitely won if the pressure hadn’t gotten to us, but it was an overall good season to be able to make it that far.”
Lehigh volleyball coach Bob Bertucci first noticed Nagelhout while she was playing on the D.C. club circuit.
Bertucci said the Lehigh recruiting staff watches the D.C. area clubs frequently so he wasn’t surprised Nagelhout was a product of that area. He said Nagelhout was Lehigh’s first commit in the 2017 recruiting class.
Bertucci said the first thing he noticed about Nagelhout was her athleticism, but he was also drawn to her academic strength and her interest in science. Her academic and athletic abilities made Nagelhout exactly what Bertucci was looking for.
When Nagelhout first arrived on Lehigh’s campus, she looked forward to volleyball practice each afternoon, not really knowing what else to do on campus beside going to class. The feeling was familiar and brought her back to a time when she had just begun her volleyball career.
“I love volleyball because of the whole competitive aspect, and also the teamwork aspect along with that. You need everyone to be on the same page, the same goal, to be able to succeed.”
— CLAIRE NAGELHOUT
“My mom signed me up for volleyball and all these sports, and volleyball I just had a lot of fun and kept with it,” Nagelhout said. “I think my first year playing, our first tournament, I was just so lost. I loved playing and I was tall, but I just had no idea what I was doing. Every single rotation my friends had to be like, ‘Go over there. Stay in your corner.’ I just kind of loved being like, OK I can get used to this.”
Not really knowing what she should be doing became something Nagelhout felt all too often when she was diagnosed with a concussion at the tail-end of the preseason this past fall, right before she was set to begin her rookie season.
Nagelhout said she had a rough time the first few weeks of the regular season because she couldn’t participate in practice, so her time was filled with going to class and not much else. She said her teammates have been instrumental in her return to full health, supporting her with each step in her recovery.
One of Nagelhout’s teammates, fellow freshman middle blocker Nicole Vaccarella, said while Nagelhout’s concussion set her back mentally, her determination and work ethic allowed her to return to her level of play quickly.
“When (Nagelhout) had her concussion, I could see that she was struggling and very sad that she couldn’t be on the court with us playing,” Vaccarella said. “I think the happiest I have ever seen her was the first day she was back and fully cleared to play. She had that spark in her again, and she never wanted to leave the court.”
Vaccarella said that she thinks Nagelhout has an extremely bright future at Lehigh and is excited to see her take-over the middle position once she is fully recovered from her injury and the team is back in season.
“It’s hard to work through (an injury) like that when you see everyone else playing and you’re just off to the sidelines,” Nagelhout said. “It definitely is important to take time to let it heal though, so then you can go back to how you used to be.”
Bertucci said Nagelhout’s health is the most important thing to be focused on, and this injury may help her fully acclimate to college so that she can return her focus to her play in the upcoming seasons.
“When she’s 100 percent we start all over,” Bertucci said. “It was very unfortunate, and I feel terrible for her, that she had a freshman year like she did. It’s very unusual. Hopefully, she’s got that behind her now and has just a great career ahead of her. It’s nobody’s fault, it just is what it is. I think she has a great future here as a middle-blocker for Lehigh.”
Now having just completed her first season at Lehigh, Nagelhout is looking forward to her future. Beyond finding success during her four years at Lehigh, Nagelhout knows she wants to play volleyball for as long as possible.
“I definitely want to keep playing,” Nagelhout said. “It’s far in advance, so I can’t say exactly. I know a lot of older people play beach volleyball over indoor, just because indoor is tough on all of your joints. I think that would be a fun way to spend time after graduation, just playing beach volleyball.”
Ten, 15, even 20 years into the future, Nagelhout knows where she’ll be—a few hundred yards past the Lincoln Memorial, over at the sand courts playing volleyball.