Whew. Gotta tell ya: I am just glad Hanlan isn't boycotting the blog or planning to give me a cold shoulder the next three years she steps on the court for us. When setting up the following interview, I danced on eggshells a little bit by trying to make it abundantly clear that I am definitely a Maddie Hanlan fan.
Last year, it just took me a while, you know? I know, I know: I was told by everyone who was anyone that Hanlan would step in - cool as a cucumber - dig balls, play libero, we'll all be happy. Trouble is: I am a scientist. You know..I'm a 'in God we trust - all others must bring data' kinda guy.
So, last year right before the SLC Tourney, I am sitting on this very couch upon which I am typing up this interview and I begin to review stats and match files. All the sudden my memories combine with the numbers on the page and I remember having the "a-ha" moment & thinking: Holy crap. Hanlan is good. Hanlan is really good.
I walked around my own house expecting my two-year old daughter to point at me and start up with "Nanny, nanny boo boo.. I told you so, I told you so". It was like I had discovered something that everybody else knew before me and now I was going around embarrassed. I was thinking that total strangers would walk up to me and say "Hey, aren't you that PA dude who writes that web-thingy? Dude, why aren't you cool with Hanlan at libero - she's awesome, bro!"
Of course, all the while I was thrilled Hanlan was succeeding. She was a vital part of our season last year and should be again this time around. The fact that she responded to my questions with a "thank you" and an humble acknowledgement that she had large shoes to fill when she stepped in last year just iced things over. In #7 we trust... all others better hit the ball another direction.
Here's my Q&A session with the Ladyjack Libero:
SFAVolleyBlog.net: You are coming off a year where you set an all-time SFA record for digs by a freshman. Talk me through how someone who so early in her college career is recognized as a great defensive player can get even better.
Maddie: Well there is definitely always, always, always room for improvement, so I try to do some self-reflection after each season to identify specific skills I could get better at (which usually turns out to be all of them). Hopefully, a year of experience with the team and in this conference will help me improve in areas like reading college-level hitters, being better prepared for practices, game and travel routines, knowing some of my opponents (and teammates) tendencies to help me anticipate plays better. I know I have lots to learn and lots to improve on so hopefully I can keep building on everything that happened my first year.
SFAVolleyBlog.net: What is that one thing about your freshman experience that was really hard, but that this year you are saying to yourself “I know what to expect out of that now”. What was the biggest adjustment that you had to make coming from Arlington-Martin to SFA?
Maddie: Well first of all, just thinking about two-a-days last year scared the living daylights out of me so that definitely was a challenge. I know what to expect during the first two weeks now so all the anxiety or at least most of it will subside I hope (I have my fingers crossed). Other than that I think the hardest thing was adjusting to being away from home and doing absolutely everything on your own. It sounds nice and all but it takes more getting used to than I ever thought. I was really glad to have MC [Bottles] as a roommate to help me figure some things out about my first year of balancing volleyball and classes.
SFAVolleyBlog.net: Last year, as a freshman, were there any things that the upperclassmen made the freshmen do in order to “earn their stripes”? Any rituals or rites of passage that you had to go through? Are there any things that are just “left to the freshmen” to do that now you won’t have to do anymore?
Maddie: Yes, being a freshman comes with responsibilities such as setting up the nets and carrying the dirty clothes and extras bags at tournaments. Unfortunately, the sophomores have to do some of that too so I think I’ll be stuck with these extra little duties for one more year, but they are not too bad. Also there are only so many chairs in the Shelton Gym [ed. note: practice facility] locker room, so of course the elders got to sit in those and I often found myself sitting on the floor in the back. I don't mind, though. I know my time will come!
SFAVolleyBlog.net: Your 40 aces last year far and away led the team. How would you categorize your serve and is it the same type of serve you have always had or have you experimented with different ways to serve and settled on the style you are using now?
Maddie: I would call my serve a jump floater and now that I think about it, it has always been my go-to serve. I started jump serving in the 8th grade and loved it. Once I figured out jumping and hitting made my contact point almost as high as a front row players’ standing serve, I was sold. That and I've always felt that a good floater is the toughest serve to pass consistently. Although sometimes I will get into little slumps where it’s just not working, and will occasionally change to a standing floater, I will always go back to the jump floater.
SFAVolleyBlog.net: Finally, rank the skills most necessary for a good libero. For instance, is footwork more important that being in the correct position? Is reading the attacker more important that those two? Lateral quickness, what?
Maddie: I think to be a good libero you need to have great discipline, read hitters and situations well, be really consistent in serve-receive, and be willing to do just about anything to keep the ball off the floor. Every coach I ever had drilled into me the importance of discipline. You must know your defensive assignment and get to the right spot every time. If you try to do too much and just fly around the court diving for balls it seems every ball hits the floor. The defense has to work as a unit and everyone has to be disciplined within their assignment. Reading the hitter is also very important and I think the most fun because it’s like a game within a game. Liberos need to serve-receive consistently well to keep the offense going. Also, just as important as any skill, a libero has to be tenacious. "Just keep the little white ball off the floor" is what one of my previous and favorite coaches always said and I think that sums it up as well as anything what the libero position is all about.
It's reporting day! Sunday night is the annual kick-off-the-year social/dinner and I'll have a short report on that next week. This will personally be my first chance to see and meet all the new players and I really look forward to that. First practices will be on all their minds as Monday morning they get started bright and early with two-a-days.
My plan is to take in a practice on Thursday of next week sandwiched between major deadlines in my real job and a weekend vacation with my son.
I've got a call in to a former Ladyjack that I'd like to reintroduce all of you too in another week or so, but in the short term will try and have two posts in the next seven to ten days and they will be....
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