By Chuck McGill for VolleyballMag.com
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – You could say that Marshall freshman Madison Hill hits hard.
“The first thing you notice when you see Madison Hill is she tries to break the ball when she hits it,” Marshall coach Mitch Jacobs said.
It’s paying off, because the 6-foot-1 middle currently ranks third in the NCAA in hitting percentage at .454.
The product of Rock Hill, Texas, is one of four freshmen regulars for the Thundering Herd, which is off to a 13-5 start with 10 sweeps.
Marshall, 2-1 in Conference USA, was scheduled to play host to Florida International on Friday, but that match was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew. Now the Herd plays next on Sunday when UTSA visits Huntington, W.Va., and FIU will come to town next Tuesday instead.
Hill is averaging 2.35 kills per set and has 52 blocks, six solo. At one point last month she was ranked No. 1 in the country in hitting percentage.
“I knew coming in that our freshman class could have a big impact,” said Hill, who has played in 60 of a possible 64 sets this season. “I couldn’t be doing what I’ve been doing without everybody else.”
Jacobs said the breakthrough in Hill’s recruitment came during a summer camp in Huntington. Hill had decided to join her friend, fellow freshman and Texas native Madelyn Cole, on the cross-country trip because the two friends were then going on a family vacation after the stop in West Virginia.
Marshall had been recruiting Cole, but Hill didn’t plan on auditioning.
“I wasn’t really trying to impress the coaches because I didn’t think I’d be going here,” Hill said. “I was just kind of having fun.”
She did, and Jacobs stopped Hill during a drill and noticed the Marshall shirt she was wearing.
“He told me the shirt looked good on me,” Hill said.
What really intrigued Jacobs was Hill’s fit with his vision for the Thundering Herd program.
“I love her aggressiveness offensively,” Jacobs said. “We’ve had a couple really good defensive middles, we’ve had a couple great offensive middles who hit the slide bit time, but we’ve never really had a good middle who could put it away straight through the middle on a regular basis.
“We saw that was going to be her strength, and being able to play in front of the setter and knowing we wanted to go to a two-setter offense, we knew that slot was going to be very important to us.
“She became a great recruit to get and she is having a pretty special start to the year.”
Hill was a three-year starter at Heritage Christian Academy, where her team never lost a match and she played in 346 sets with 1,490 kills and a .412 hitting percentage. She was a state tournament MVP, first-team all-state selection and a three-time all-district pick.
But Hill, who played club for Mad Frog, was unsure of her college destination. She hadn’t previously envisioned drifting far from her Texas home, northeast of Dallas, where she lived with her father and younger sister. When Jacobs and assistant coach Taylor Strickland started recruiting Hill more heavily, she convinced her father to visit the campus.
The girl who once juggled soccer and volleyball and who was once a middle-school kid of average height before a growth spurt of four inches in the seventh grade, had developed a Texas-sized love for Marshall.
“I think she’s started to feel like this is home,” Jacobs said. “Now that she’s here we just really enjoy her. She’s such a thinker and she’s so bright.
“But to have what she’s doing on the floor is such a bonus as a freshman.”
Hill is an athletic-training major and said she’d like to stay involved with volleyball after she graduates. Those are decisions for the future. Right now, she is embracing the present.
“I’ve always been a pretty good scorer,” she said, “so I thought I could come in and compete with everyone. I didn’t think I’d come in and be this good. That’s kind of surprising.”
“It’s fun to watch a young lady grow like she already is,” Jacobs added, “and to have so much confidence in herself is great for the team.”