For Madison Foley, it’s all about versatility and consistency.
The 5-9 Foley, a do-everything star at Dayton High, has rarely come off the volleyball court since entering the University of Nevada, and she’s on the verge of wrapping up her best season in three years with the final three matches of her junior season.
She’s second on the team to Madison Morrell in kills (290), kills per set (2.90), first in service aces (39), third in digs (223) and fourth in attack percentage (.219). She has improved by .59 in the latter category.
College has brought change for Foley, who jumps well despite being just 5-9. She’s giving up several inches almost every night, forcing her to make some adjustments in her net game. Kills are not automatic like in high school, but she has still been a big factor at the net for the Pack.
“Attacking the block is the biggest thing,” Foley said in Legacy Hall earlier this week. “I am always giving up a few inches. Most of the time the middles I see are 6-2 or taller (Colorado State has a 6-5 middle).
“I’m definitely smaller. I’ve changed the way I swing. I’m trying to go off the arm or off the fingertips. I’m swinging higher. My freshman year I would just pound away, hitting into an attempted a block or hitting it down ... I’ve gotten smarter.”
Second-year head coach Lee Nelson agreed.
“You also have to be a little bit cagey (when you are shorter),” Nelson said. “Besides the tip, she is hitting the deep corner and deep line. She has improved as a hitter. She is very efficient.
“Foley has done a tremendous job for us. She’s played nearly every point this season except when she rolled her ankle against Boise State, and she came back from that. She is a very important part of the team. Only two players (Foley and Morrell) play all the way around plus our setter (Lyndsey Anderson).”
Foley hit .160 last year, but has improved to .219. Nelson said he doesn’t have a percentage in mind in terms of a versatile player like Foley should produce.
“Part of it depends on what else you’re doing,” Nelson said. “If you are passing out of five rotations (like Foley) … if she were just a front-line maybe I’d expect .260.”
Foley also has improved her serving and passing. The latter is key if you want to be a full-rotation player. She continues to be a player who can get a hard shot up.
“Passing off the serve is a big deal,” she said. “If you can’t pass, you can’t run your middles. You need to get everybody involved.
“During film, we talk about certain players we want to target with the serve. You generally don’t target the libero. Coach doesn’t call to serve to a certain area of the floor. We’ve gotten better at digging the ball as the season has progressed.”
Fifteen times Foley has registered 10 or more kills, and eight times she’s had double-digit dig games.
Statistically, she had 20 kills and eight digs against Fresno State, and she had 19 kills against Utah State. She has struggled against CSU, averaging seven kills per match because of 6-5 Kirstie Hillyer.
The Pack has made a nice turnaround under Nelson, going from 12-18 in 2015, his first year, to 18-9 this year heading into tonight’s home match against New Mexico. With NM, UNLV and San Diego State left on the schedule, the Pack needs two wins to become the fourth squad to record 20 wins.
The three prior 20-win seasons were 1998 (22-7), 2002 (22-10 and 2004 (21-10), all under Devin Scruggs.
Foley said Nelson has made a huge difference. In Foley’s first year, the Pack went a dismal 8-20, leading to Ruth Lawanson being replaced by Nelson.
“We worked harder in the off-season. We had a lot of open gyms and we all came in and did our work,” Foley said. “We all want to play for him. He puts so much time and effort into this; we all put so much time in. We all want to do well and work hard.
“He is so positive. We just are more confident. He makes us feel like we’re good players.”
Nelson is just being Nelson.
“It’s hard to say, I don’t know what was in place before I got here,” Nelson said. “It’s a process. I tell the girls to worry about what you can control; leave errors behind you and don’t dwell on them. Focus on this point, this set and this match. I’m a pretty positive guy.”