PAPILLION — Growing up in Norfolk, Denise Koziol loved playing basketball and running track but admits she didn’t like volleyball until high school.
But she made her mark at Norfolk High School as a three-sport athlete and, coincidentally, at Nebraska on the volleyball court. And that got her reminiscing about her journey to becoming a chief financial officer, wife and mother now living in Papillion.
"I was all basketball — I thought volleyball was fine, but I thought it was kind of boring at first," she said. "I probably didn't really start to like volleyball until I was in high school. My love for volleyball grew very quickly, and it began to surpass the rest of the sports."
Now Denise Alderson, she still holds the 800-meter dash record in the Daily News’ coverage area with a time of 2 minutes, 14.73 seconds set in 1995.
On the track, she won the state title as a freshman, which made her realize her talent in track, she said.
"I loved running track in junior high. I thought I was always a sprinter, but I realized I wasn't very fast out of the blocks. It took me a while to get going, so that's when I started to run the 400 and 800. I was fast, but I wasn't a sprinter fast," Alderson said. "I also loved track because you only have to worry about yourself."
Toward the end of her freshman year, she moved up to varsity starting at the Norfolk Classic and continued from there.
"Track was the sport I was the most successful at in high school. As a freshman I set the high school record in the 400-meter dash with little to no coaching," Alderson said. "I didn't get asked to compete in varsity track until later that year. I think they all of a sudden realized that I was consistently fast."
In her freshman year, she won the all-class state championship with a time of 2:16.66 in the 800-meter run. She then went on to win the Class A state title in the 800-meter run the next two years.
"Denise was a great student-athlete and a super individual," Norfolk track and field coach Gary Schuurmans said. "She was a very talented, goal-oriented athlete with a great work ethic and desire to achieve. She was a fierce competitor who always felt you had to run to win, never save anything for the next race or settle for second place."
During her time on the track team, she went on to break the school record in the 800-meter run, and she is also a member of the record-breaking 4x800-meter relay team.
"In a race, she liked to set the pace and see who could hang with her. Because of her attitude and drive, she held her teammates at a very high level of expectation, which made everyone achieve more together," Schuurmans said.
Her 4x400 relay team took sixth place her freshman year and came in fifth place in her junior season. She also took fifth place in the 400-meter dash her sophomore year.
As she developed into a polished track athlete, she also saw success on the hardwood as a three-year letter winner and starter on the basketball and volleyball team. Her volleyball talent caught the attention of coaches at the University of Nebraska.
Before her senior year, she had committed to play volleyball at Nebraska, but she wanted to defend her title on the track one last time.
"I got a lot stronger. When it came time for the track season, my goal was to beat the current state record," Alderson said. "He (Schuurmans) put me on a plan, and I was on schedule to peak at the right time."
She was prepping for a record-breaking time until she hurt her foot at the district track meet.
"I had a stress fracture in my foot. ... The doctor said I could run at state, but I would have to deal with the pain," Alderson said. "It was a sharp pain. They put this metal plate in my shoe, which kept me from extending my foot and it kept it flat. The fracture was right on the top, toward the joint of the ankle."
She went through with the race at the state track meet in the 800-meter run but wasn't able to take home the gold, as she finished in fourth place.
"I really believe she would have run a 2:12 at state in 1995 if she didn't break her foot at districts," Schuurmans said.
The day after the race, she was put into a cast and spent the summer in the cast and had it removed right before she started volleyball practice in the fall at Nebraska.
"As a three-sport athlete, she had a very busy schedule, but she always found time to train by putting in a few miles each week during seasons on her own," Schuurmans said. "During her four years, she accomplished so many amazing things just because of how she approached competitions. I see the same qualities in her today with her family."
After graduating from Norfolk High School in 1995, she went on to play volleyball at Nebraska under coach Terry Pettit.
"He was quiet, but he had very high expectations. He was very much into the mental side of the game," Alderson said. "Coach Pettit is somebody that I have a ton of respect for. I probably learned more from him about life in general. I felt like he was able to see things in people that they maybe weren't able to see in themselves. He would get the best out of people."
In 1995, the Huskers went on to win their first national championship during her redshirt season. The following season, Alderson was in the hunt for a starting position as a middle hitter.
But a week before the season started, she ended up tearing her ACL and meniscus in the Red-White scrimmage.
"I was out that whole season. It was a very bad injury. I ended up having three knee surgeries in nine months," Alderson said. "I had my last surgery in the spring of 1997."
She came back from injury her junior year and found her way into the starting lineup, this time in a defensive role.
"When I came back, I ended up losing 5 inches on my vertical," she said. "I'm only 5-foot-11 — as an outside and middle hitter, I relied on my vertical."
In 1999, she decided it was best to take a medical hardship, which allowed her to stay on scholarship after graduating as an undergraduate in the spring of 1999.
"I could have played, but I knew I wasn't going to make a career out of volleyball so I let my scholarship then pay for graduate school, which I completed that year," Alderson said.
She graduated with a business degree and an emphasis in accounting, then graduated from grad school and got her master’s in accounting.
When she left grad school and Nebraska volleyball behind, she moved to Omaha and worked on the audit side of accounting at Deloitte for five years.
In 2004, she married her husband, Clint, and they have two boys, Brady, 12, and Blake, 7.
They live in the Papillion La Vista area, where she is now the CFO for a real estate company called Colliers International. She has been there for the past 14 years.
Alderson thought she would end up back in Norfolk, but in the back of her mind, she knew she would live somewhere in Nebraska.
"There have been times when I wish I still lived in Norfolk. Now is not one of them, but I have gone through time periods when I wish I had moved back to Norfolk. I love Norfolk. I like the pace of life and the people," Alderson said. "I always saw myself playing sports in college. The opportunity to go to Nebraska and play volleyball at that time, especially back then coming from Norfolk, was a really big deal.
“I felt like that was my place. I never really thought I would leave Nebraska because I have a lot of extended family here. I always figured I would end up in one of the bigger cities in Nebraska."