Carson High’s Jennifer Purcell and Dayton High’s Madi Foley are in the upper echelon of their respective sports, and now they are going to be together at the University of Nevada.
Purcell is the left-handed hitting outfielder-first baseman, has a .429 average with nine homers and 61 RBI. She has been the Senators’ most-dangerous offensive threat on the softball field the past two years.
Foley, the reigning Lahontan League Player of the Year, has 1,014 kills heading into this weekend’s state volleyball tournament. Foley led Dayton to a 90-34 career record to this point.
Purcell and Foley are believed to be the first from their respective schools and sports to earn scholarships at Nevada. Brittany Puzey started her high school softball career at Carson, but finished up at Douglas High before going to UNR.
For Purcell, the road to Nevada was an interesting one.
Even though she attended softball camps at UNR from her eighth-grade year on, Purcell never received any verbal or written interest from the Wolf Pack. As the recruiting interest kept building the past year or so — Texas Tech, Cal-Baptist, Sac State, San Jose State and Dixie State — there still was no word from Nevada.
At a travel ball tournament last November, Purcell hit a double, triple and grandslam. As it turned out, Nevada coach Matt Meuchel was in attendance, and was impressed by what he saw.
“The next morning I received an email asking me if I could meet him in his office,” Purcell said. “We talked about stuff. They made an offer and I gave them a verbal commitment (before Thanksgiving).”
Purcell’s dad, Tom, said that Meuchel was under the assumption that Jennifer would go to San Jose State. Peter Turner, San Jose’s State’s head coach, was in charge of the travel ball program that Purcell was involved with.
“I went there (to San Jose) my freshman year,” Purcell said. “I talked to coach Turner. I just didn’t get a good feel for it. The coaches are good at Nevada, the girls are great and I’ve already made a lot of friends. I’ll get to play in front of family and friends which is good for me. They (my family) got me to where I’m at.”
Meuchel is overjoyed to land yet another local blue-chip product. Over the years, the Nevada softball roster usually includes a handful of area players.
“She has been on our radar for a while,” Meuchel said. “I remember her coming to our camps when she was 12 or 13. That gave us he ability to track her. She always stood out.”
Where she plays on defense is the big question right now. Purcell has played both corner outfield positions, first base and catcher during her travel ball and high school days.
“They have said I will hit for sure my first year,” Purcell said. “First base is more natural for me. You get to communicate a lot more. I think it’s a good spot for me.”
“Where she plays will be based on what the need (of the roster) is,” Meuchel said. “She can do four things. She’s not a center fielder, but she can play left, right, first and she could catch. We have a senior at first base now. We get all the recruits and returners together and see how they all fit. She brings a big bat to the lineup.”
Purcell is one of the most feared hitters in Northern Nevada. What makes her dangerous is that she uses the entire field. She also has the attitude she should bat 1.000, and like most good hitters, gets disappointed when she doesn’t get a hit.
“She is a natural hitter,” Meuchel said. “There is no other way to explain. No matter what, she finds a way to get on base. She possesses a lot of raw power.
“Her challenge at the next level is consistency (both offensively and defensively). You see considerably better pitching. Even at the club level now you see mediocre pitching. It doesn’t take much to put a club team together. You have to make sure you have a consistent approach, especially at the offensive end.”
Foley talked to just two Division I schools during the recruiting process — Nevada and Idaho.
“I gave Nevada a verbal last November,” Foley said. “They wanted me to commit by a certain date and I told them I couldn’t do that. After we talked on the phone, I ended up agreeing to go there. It will be great because my parents can see me play at home. I’m excited. It will be good.”
Foley is entering a good situation. The Wolf Pack struggled to a 2-24 record and an 0-14 mark in the Mountain West Conference. The Pack has a young team with 14 of 16 players returning next fall.
“Madi can help (UNR) make the next step,” said Foley’s club coach, Justin Malley. “I think with Nevada she will be able to get playing time right away. She will be able to compete for a starting spot.”
So does Nevada coach Ruth Lawanson.
“She is very good at ball control,” Lawanson said. “Ball control is being able to handle the ball and handle it cleanly before it gets to the setter. It’s crucial. She is a good, solid volleyball player. She has a god volleyball IQ. She is able to play all six rotations, so we wouldn’t have to take her out when she gets to the back row. When you have good ball control we’ll find a spot for you.”
Foley can do it all. Besides the more-than 1,000 kills she has racked up in her four-year varsity career, she averaged 7.9 digs per match, and she only had two errors in 41 sets. She only six serve-receive errors.
Hitting is what Foley does best, and Lawanson isn’t concerned that the 5-foot-9 Foley might be a tad undersized compared to many other hitters.
“You don’t have to be big and tall,” Lawanson said. “Madi plays bigger than she is. The one good thing is that Madi doesn’t need a high set. When you don’t have a big team, you use speed. I told her that the blockers are going to be bigger at this level,”
And that means Foley will need to be more creative. Foley is adept at hitting inside the block. Her court vision enables her to do a good job of reading defenses; reading blocks.
She is the complete package, according to Dayton coach Monica Halverson.
“She is by far the most talented player I’ve ever coached,” Halverson said. “She has been in a league by herself the last four years. She can pass, bump, hit and defend. I’ve been fortunate she’s on my team. She’s been solid all four years she’s been here.
“I think she’ll do a great job..”