Dublin Scioto High School senior Nelson Ai is hardly imposing at 5-foot-9, 140 pounds.

Dublin Scioto High School senior Nelson Ai is hardly imposing at 5-foot-9, 140 pounds.

But though work and determination, Ai, an outside hitter, has developed into the boys volleyball team's best offensive and defensive player.

"Nelson isn't as tall, big or muscular as a lot of the guys he goes up against, but he moves at a different speed than anyone else on the court and he's got great body control to get in position to make plays," coach Doug Arden said. "He has an unbelievable ability to anticipate where the ball is going, and that allows him to head to where it's going, which is a big advantage when it comes to hitting, blocking and digging."

Arden said Ai practices with more passion than any other player he has coached. In February 2007, Ai had surgery to remove a two-inch sewing needle from his right foot that he accidentally stepped on at home. After missing just one practice, Ai ignored his doctor's advice and returned to practice the next day with fresh stitches in his foot.

"I was supposed to wait until the stitches were removed, but I didn't want to miss another day of practice," Ai said. "It hurt like crazy when my shoe would touch the (wound), but I just wrapped up my foot and kept playing."

"Nelson loves the game so much that he would practice until midnight every night if he had the opportunity," Arden said. "That's the reason he's able to make the kind of plays that he makes and play much bigger than he is."

Scioto isn't keeping statistics, but Arden said Ai is definitely leading the Irish in kills, aces, digs and serve-receive.

"Nelson is more consistent, reliable and capable than any other player I've had in my (four) years here," Arden said. "You name the skill, and he's the best player we have. If we score 25 points in a game, Nelson's responsible for most of them. We set him no matter where he is on the court because he is, by far, our best hitter. He's a lefty with long arms and a smooth, natural swing. The other teams' coaches tell me they gear their whole defense toward stopping Nelson, and he hits the ball through blocks, off blocks and past blocks. He's a great defensive player, too. The ball never hits the floor when he's there."

Arden said Ai's improved all-around skills have been key as the Irish opened 7-9 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Cardinal Division. They went 4-16 overall and 0-8 in the OCC last year and 5-16 overall and 0-6 in the league two years ago.

Ai was a setter and earned the team's Player of the Year Award last year, but was moved back to outside hitter again this season.

"I hated setting because I couldn't hit or play defense, but I did it to help out my team," Ai said. "I really wanted to get another chance at hitting, so I went to a rec center to play volleyball a lot during the offseason, and that made me better. Now, coach thinks I'm the best hitter we have and he put me back to where I like to play. I'm working real hard to help our team get better. The thing that motivates me is we want to have a winning record, because we've never done that since I've been here. We're playing a lot better than we have the past few years, so we just need to keep it up."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Coffman, Jerome and Scioto boys volleyball teams:

COFFMAN

*April 22 -- Lost to Gahanna 25-21, 26-24, 18-25, 25-21

*April 24 -- Defeated Thomas Worthington 25-16, 25-14, 25-12

Last Saturday -- Def. Brecksville-Broadview Heights 25-0, 25-19; lost to Gahanna 25-15, 25-20; def. Erlanger (Ky.) St. Henry 25-16, 25-16

Last Tuesday -- Played St. Charles

*Today -- At Upper Arlington. Coffman lost 25-19, 25-22, 25-21 on April 15.

Saturday -- At Fairborn. Coffman lost 33-31, 23-25, 25-20 last year.

Wednesday -- At Hilliard Davidson. Coffman won 25-12, 25-23, 24-26, 25-15 last year.

Of note: The Shamrocks were 7-8 overall before last Tuesday and are 2-5 in the OCC-Ohio.

*OCC-Ohio match

JEROME

*April 22 -- Def. Pickerington Central 25-11, 25-19, 25-17

*April 24 -- Def. Westerville Central 25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-11

*Last Tuesday -- Played Mount Vernon

*Today -- At Olentangy Liberty. Jerome won 25-22, 25-21, 25-16 on April 15.

*Wednesday -- At Delaware. Jerome won 25-19, 25-15, 25-16 on April 17.

Of note: The Celtics were 8-5 overall and 6-1 in the OCC-Capital before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Capital match

SCIOTO

*April 22 -- Lost to Pickerington North 25-10, 25-16, 25-17

*April 24 -- Def. Westerville North 25-10, 24-26, 26-28, 25-16, 15-2

Last Saturday -- Lost to Gahanna 24-26, 25-15, 25-19; def. Brecksville-Broadview Heights 25-20, 25-23; lost to Pickerington Central 19-25, 27-25, 27-25

*Last Tuesday -- Played Westerville South

*Today -- At Worthington Kilbourne. Scioto lost 25-15, 25-22, 25-12 on April 15.

Tuesday -- At Liberty

Of note: The Irish were 7-9 overall and 3-5 in the OCC-Cardinal before last Tuesday.

*OCC-Cardinal match