Not that she’s not excited about already being in college, but Thayer Hall, the VolleyballMag.com national high school player of the year, admits she’s already a bit homesick.
Hall, who graduated early from Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C, in December is enrolled at the University of Florida, a program that just more than a month ago played for the NCAA championship. The nation’s top incoming recruit is getting a crash immersion course in life as a college freshman and as a player on one of the game’s perennial powers.
“I already miss it,” Hall said. “I miss my girls and my coach in high school. I knew there would be some early home-sickness. I’m away from home before I really had to be. I’m sure I’m going to get used to it, but right now I miss everything about high school.”
But there are certainly those who won’t miss Hall in local girls’ high-school circles, namely the opponents on which she wreaked havoc during her Dorman tenure. Hall finished with 2,291 career kills and hit .391.
This past season Dorman won a second straight class 5A South Carolina state title as Hall blasted home 638 kills and hit .401. She also had 37 blocks .
“No one would set their right side for fear of her block,” longtime Dorman coach Paula Kirkland said.
Hall, a 6-3 outside hitter, also racked up 369 digs, 44 aces and had a serve-reception percentage of 92. Add it all up and no wonder she’s our player of the year. Hall also was recently named Gatorade’s national girls high-school player of the year.
“Thayer is special in so many ways,” Kirkland said. “She is the most competitive player I have ever coached. She is the hardest worker in the weight room and in practice. She holds herself to an extreme high standard and therefore expects the same out of her teammates.”
How competitive is Hall?
“We had to come up with special ways to score practice in order to meet the need of challenging her, which in turn challenged everyone in the gym,” Kirkland added. “As much as she wanted every ball and could make almost every play, she understood the need to have her teammates excel, in addition to her own success, in order for our team to excel.”
Kirkland feels Hall’s experience with the USA Volleyball high-performance pipeline in the off-season heading into her senior year took her to another level.
Hall played with the women’s junior national team and was the youngest player on that squad. What’s more, Hall was named MVP at the PanAm Games in Costa Rica (she was the only high-school player in the tournament). She also played with the junior national team in Mexico City.
“Quite an unusual summer for a high-school player,” Kirkland said. “Thayer always has been a very determined and competitive athlete. This year it seemed as though she elevated her high expectations of herself and our team even more.
“Winning another state title was her ultimate goal and she was not going to be denied. I have never experienced in 37 years of coaching the domination she displayed in the playoffs this year.
“She wasn’t perfect, but boy was she ever good. I think her playing with the USA teams also played a huge role in her maturity as a player and person. In those instances, she had to perform on a level so far and above high-school ball. She brought that intensity back.”
In looking back at her high-school career, Hall would rather remember the real tangible rewards she earned. And they have nothing to do with player-of-the-year honors or lofty statistical numbers.
“I hope I haven’t said this too much, but I truly believe what I’m going to take away from it more than anything else is the relationships,” Hall said. “We’ve been playing school-ball together since middle school and it’s been a really cool experience. It’s something I never would trade.
“I wouldn’t want it to go any other way. Everything I did in high school was a sisterhood. It’s not the trophies or the rings, it’s everything outside of volleyball that is important to me.”
Dorman sophomore libero Anna Renwick couldn’t talk enough about Hall’s leadership abilities.
“She makes everybody around her a better player,” Renwick said. “It’s how she carries herself on the court. She holds everybody to standards and holds everybody accountable so we can get done everything that needed to be done and to reach the goals we can. She can overcome anything. She’s the one who could get us out of a hole and pick everybody out.”
Sophomore middle hitter-right side Lauren Harrell added: “She’s a player and she knows what we all go through. She’s right out there with us. She knew how to get us out of a slump and knew how to pick us up when we were down.”
But Hall would have to be put into the category of accidental volleyball player. She hated the sport at first.
“I was 9 and my mom made me go to a practice and I cried my eyes out,” she said. “I did not want to go. I was really mad. But she was right. I loved it. After sophomore year I really stuck with it. It took me a long time to figure out and finally understand it and understand how far I could take myself in volleyball. There were times where it would get inside my head and I would doubt myself in terms of what I could accomplish.”
Hall said some nudging from one of her club coaches at the Spartanburg, South Carolina-based Upward Stars made a difference.
“My 13s club coach said when you walk in the gym believe you can bring it home,” she said. “That changed my mindset and I had confidence in what I could do and what I could accomplish.”
With high school behind her, Hall knows she will have to prove herself all over again in Gainesville. To her advantage, Hall’s early enrollment at Florida affords her the opportunity to train with the team during spring workouts and exhibitions.
“I moved in January 5th,” she said. “It’s been a really good experience, but it’s still a tough adjustment. In senior year of high school you don’t really do too much,” she said with a laughs. “Now in college you have to figure out how to manage your time with classes and workouts.”
Hall said what she feels now isn’t pressure, but something different.
“I’ve never really felt pressure,” she said. “I’m fully aware this will make or break my career. It’s in God’s hands what I do and what I can control. I know if I work hard I have the opportunity to have an amazing volleyball career and a great future. I’m coming down here ready to accept my role, whatever that is. This is a team that just competed for a national championship. There are big shoes to fill. This is not a situation where you just walk in no matter who you are. This is definitely something I’m going to have to work for.”
And Hall said she more than ready to roll her sleeves up and get to work.
“Volleyball for me definitely is more of a natural skill. I’ve always been a gym rat and have always been big on perfecting my game. Since the moment I stepped on the Sport Court, this game has been my passion.”
Kirkland puts Hall in a rare category.
“In all my years of coaching and of all the high-level players I’ve coached, I have never coached the quality of player that Thayer Hall is,” Kirkland wrote in the Gatorade player of the year application for Hall. “She is the most talented player to ever come out of our program and I say without a doubt, to ever come out of our state. She is a phenomenal player.”
With plenty of volleyball ahead of her.
“I expect her to step in at Florida and make an impact right away,” said Kirkland, who has coached 13 state-championship teams. “She’s that caliber of player. She’s something to watch and we got to reap the benefits.”