By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—Madison McClain may have been named the Halstead volleyball team’s “unsung hero” last season, but that’s not likely to be the case, this year. The senior has stepped into the role of starting server and has been showing her dominance as she sets the tone for getting Halstead off to a strong start in competitions.
“I kind of like the pressure,” she said. “I kind of like feeling like a leader. I feel like I can handle the responsibility.”
And, she’s been coming through for Halstead, so far. Head coach Diana Schutte said McClain came out serving very aggressively last week against Kingman, which gave the team confidence the rest of the game. Schutte has noticed big strides in McClain’s performance, this year.
“She is now stronger than ever and is leading us in serve receive and ace serves,” Schutte said.
McClain has a particular strategy she uses to ace her opponents.
“My favorite thing to do is spot serve and find their weakest link of a girl who maybe just had a bad pass and just zero in on her,” she said. “It sounds terrible, but you do what works.”
She said the basics of making sure the toss is high enough and not stepping over the line are also important to remember when serving.
“I went into this year with a goal of getting my jump serve better,” she said. “I’ve always been able to do a jump serve; I just haven’t been super confident and willing to be aggressive. So, this year, I worked a lot on my jump serve and so far, it’s been pretty successful, but it’s not completely where I want it.”
To prepare for her senior season, McClain participated in the high school’s summer weights program four days a week, as well as volleyball practices once a week. They also played a few small scrimmages against other schools.
Official volleyball practices began two-and-a-half weeks before the delayed first day of classes on Sept. 3, with their first game even coming before school started, which felt weird, she said.
McClain said the season has started well for the team, but she still sees potential for them to grow better.
“We’re just scraping the surface,” she said. “It’s September, so it’s further into it than if feels like, so every game is really important. I think we’re all taking it seriously, as if it’s the last game we’ll ever play.”
She said that nagging question of whether they’ll be able to play through the entire season is always in the back of their minds.
Getting to this point has not been without obstacles for McClain. A year ago, she was struggling with an eating disorder that affected her performance on the court and ended up requiring her to be hospitalized for four weeks.
After being released from the hospital, she gave herself a new mindset.
“Basically, I just put things in perspective that I need food,” she said. “It’s embarrassing because a lot of people don’t understand and I didn’t even realize I was hurting myself by not eating.”
She’s no longer letting society’s views of a “perfect look” define her with unrealistic expectations.
“Coming back from that, I just feel so much stronger and I kind of have a new outlook on things and respect for myself,” McClain said.
She hopes by sharing her experience, she can inspire other girls who are going through similar situations.
“I feel like it’s a common thing for girls,” she said.
McClain has been playing volleyball since seventh grade, which was also her first year in Halstead. She loves the random stories that coach Schutte will tell during practice, especially the time Schutte got so animated during a story about one of her kids embarrassing her in public that she hit a ball at the ceiling and it hit a light.
“Something fell down from the light and it was just so funny,” McClain recalled.
She added that Schutte’s stories usually have a good moral to them.
McClain’s personal goals this season are to continue improving her serving and communicating more on the court with her teammates.
“I like how it’s a team sport, but individually, you have your own goals and you can thrive because everyone has their responsibilities,” McClain said. “You can achieve those personally, as well as team goals.”
McClain said she loves volleyball and basketball equally, depending on which season she’s in. She’s considering possibilities of playing one or the other in college, noting that she’s not putting all her eggs in one basket.
In the meantime, she’s feeling optimistic for the rest of the season
“I’m super glad that we’ve even been able to have a season with everything going on,” she said. “Just being able to be together and enjoy these last bittersweet moments of my senior year that I know next year and years after that I’ll miss.”
McClain remains excited to see what the team can accomplish this season.
“We all kind of have a fire under our belts because of everything going on and I think we have a really good chance of making it far into sub-state, if not further,” she said.