Hayley Hodson can point to the exact moment she thought she might be onto something with volleyball. After attending a USA Volleyball High Performance tryout as a 13-year-old, Hodson went online to see if she had made one of the teams.
They post the results all at once and you go online and search for your little code, she said. They were supposed to post them at 9 a.m. This was in seventh grade and we were allowed to take notes on a laptop in class. I had to know if I made it. I was super rebellious that day and used the laptop to keep checking.
When she saw that she had made the team, Hodson, about to burst with excitement, requested to use the bathroom.
I was so excited I went in the bathroom and jumped up and down and threw myself a little party, she recalled. I said to myself, Let’s do this.
And boy, has Hodson done it. The ultra-talented 6-foot-2 outside hitter has put countless hours of work into perfecting her craft. Her improvements have led her to an already spectacular run in USA Volleyball’s High Performance system, including training and competition stints with the U.S. senior national team, and the designation of being named the consensus No. 1 college recruit in the Class of 2015 by our caucus of Division I coaches and recruiters.
Not bad for someone who wasnt so sure volleyball was going to be her thing.
I did a bunch of different sports when I was younger: basketball and soccer and swimming and softball. Volleyball was my least favorite, Hodson said. At first I didnt understand the sport. You had this small box and why do we have to hit it in there? Soccer and softball were all about who could hit the hardest and the farthest. All of a sudden it just clicked. I got to be aggressive but it didnt involve contact. I got to be tall. Volleyball started being the greatest thing ever once I understood what I was doing there.
Hodson takes all the hoopla that is made about her in stride. Im absolutely thankful and absolutely humbled and very motivated by it, she said. There might be a target on my back, but I dont want that to define me. Everybody that goes into the gym wants to be the best they can be. It’s more about reaching your potential day in and day out. Im humbled to have this opportunity and Im thankful for all the coaches, my family, and all my teammates who have helped me get this far.
What is going to take Hodson far is not limited to simply her penchant for racking up high kill totals, though her numbers are certainly impressive. She had 407 kills and hit .356 her junior season at Newport Beach, California-based Corona del Mar High School, despite missing eight matches due to USA Volleyball commitments. She’s also world-class when it comes to other parts of the game, namely volleyball’s dirty workpassing.
Im just an outside hitter who likes to pass, she said. Passing is my favorite part of practice and it’s the most important skill you can have. It’s something I always can get better at. I do like to hit, but that’s a given with an outside hitter.
Troy Tanner, founder of the Irvine, California-based Tstreet club, has coached Hodson for many years. He knew rather quickly that a special talent had taken up residence in his gym. She is a technique and system sponge who listened to every word I taught and then attempted to make the adjustments during practice, Tanner said. She came into this world with physical attributes such as length, fast-twitch muscle fibers, and a high IQ, and through consistent and intelligent effort has become arguably the most complete volleyball player to ever enter college.
Since that first HP tryout, Hodson has competed at every level of the High Performance system and said the benefits of her exposure to the international game at such a young age are immeasurable.
Any experience you can have internationally is a good thing that will help your game, she said. When you go and play overseas, you are experiencing girls from all over the world who have different volleyball backgrounds. You learn something from playing different countries. It’s a privilege to represent your country and have USA on your shirt. You might not always win, but you come back with so many good things that will help you.
In addition to captaining the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team that won the gold medal at the NORCECA U20 Women’s Continental Championship last summer in Guatemala, Hodson also had the opportunity to train with the U23 team coached by U.S. Women’s National Team head coach and sport legend Karch Kiraly. That team, which also featured fellow 2015 Fab 50 member Jordyn Poulter and rising star Lexi Sun (who made this year’s 25 Underclassmen to Watch as a sophomore) placed fourth at the FIVB U23 World Championships in Mexico in October of Hodson’s junior year.
That was a really great experience, Hodson said. I got to learn from Karch, someone who has done so many important things for volleyball in our country. He focused a lot on skill but he also taught me how to approach the game of volleyball from a growth mindset. With him, you would expect everything has to be perfect, but when you walk in that gym, it’s all about getting better. I walked away from there and started applying that to many aspects of my life. It was inspiring to see people who wanted to improve even though they already are some of the best.
Kiraly, who invited Hodson to participate in the senior national team’s winter training block after her performance with the U23 team, lauded Hodson’s abilities.
Especially when you look at the outside hitter category, there are very few athletes coming out of college who perform all the skills necessary for that position: serving, passing, hitting, defending, reading, and being a good teammate, he said. Hayley isnt even in college yet and is well on her way to having that good foundation in each of those skills. She has that all-around skill set for an outside hitter that is not that common, and she hasnt started at Stanford yet.
At the conclusion of the 2014 winter training block, Hodson earned a roster spot for the NORCECA World Championship Qualifier hosted in Colorado Springs last May. Kiraly said he was impressed with how Hodson interacted with teammates who often were quite a bit older than she was.
She held her own and she held her own against other teams, he said. What I loved is she didnt back down against teams that were far older. She gained a lot of experience that forced her to develop a fundamental base and develop her ability to work with teammates.
Poulter, a Colorado-based Front Range Volleyball Club standout setter and University of Illinois signee, said her WJNT teammate is the elite player she is because of her presence on the court.
Hayley is a natural leader and is able to get her teammates to follow her example, Poulter continued. Hayley is very talkative and works to keep everyone on the team engaged and competitive.
Tom Hogan, a 12-year USAV coaching veteran who coached Hodson on the 2014 Junior National Team, recalled something that happened during the second tryout in Colorado Springs that raised his eyebrows.
We had a situation where we needed Hayley to step outside her normal position on the court and fill a needed spot for the team, Hogan said. Hayley responded that she was, willing to do whatever we needed to make the team successful. You find this type of team-first attitude on Olympic rosters. I knew we had to have Hayley be the leader both on and off the court. She accepted the role and did everything we asked and more. She was named captain of the team because of her mature and calm demeanor as well as her organized and structured approach to her game and team dynamics.
Hodson’s busy volleyball schedule and the vast potential she has in the sport led her to make an important life decision during her junior year of high school. She withdrew from Corona del Mar and now takes online classes through Laurel Springs School, an accredited private K-12 distance learning school based out of Ojai, California.
When I was training with the national team last spring, practices went from 8 a.m. to noon and that didnt work well with school, she said. When I got the call from Karch to come train, I was in the gym seven days later. I told myself I would make it happen somehow with volleyball and my academics, and I made the change at the semester break. Volleyball is very serious for me and so is school, and that’s part of the reason why I went to the online option. I want to continue to excel in my academics without compromising my volleyball opportunity. Volleyball is a really big part of my life.
Hodson added she adjusted to the new school routine rather nicely. A lot of the textbooks are the same, she said. The big thing is time management. I hold myself to a high standard with that. I know I have to get my work done.
Hodson’s coach at Tstreet, Shawn Patchell, marveled at her time commitment to the sport. On a recent day, Hodson trained on the beach (with the Elite Beach Volleyball group headed by pro beach greats Holly McPeak, Eric Fonoimoana, and Barb Fontana) before coming to club practice that night.
Hayley trained in Manhattan Beach and communicated with me to remind me she could possibly be late coming from Los Angeles traffic, Patchell said. She trained with us from 7:30-9:30 p.m. She trained smart, was very coachable and open to feedback from her coaches, and got better despite having a very long day of volleyball. She is very efficient in her approach to the game and therefore can handle a rigorous training and conditioning schedule like she has.
She is my captain again this year and brings an honest and objective approach to that job. She has added breadth and depth to her leadership and approach this year because she has started sand volleyball and is coaching, continued Patchell, referring to the Tstreet 12s team that Hodson coaches. Her volleyball IQ has improved and she shares her knowledge and calmness with her teammates in a humble and approachable way. She was voted captain because of her positive attitude and communication skills, not just her elite play.
Tanner is thrilled Hodson has been able to add coaching duties to her busy calendar. Her desire to pay it forward and understand the game from every level has inspired her to coach, he said. She’s a wonderful mentor to future Hayleys.
While Hodson draws plenty of attention, she cautions that none of what she’s been able to accomplish would be possible without all the players she competed with.
When it comes to volleyball, all I want to do is be the best teammate I can, she said. If that means running through a wall for my teammates, then that is what it takes. Volleyball is the ultimate team sport. It’s a sport that takes a lot of people contributing on each play. In the words of Troy Tanner, it’s a beautiful, fluid dance.
So what does the future dance floor hold for Hodson?
Potential is a tricky word, said Kiraly. Im not a scientist or expert, but Hayley’s one of those players out there that has the experience and has been developing for a while and that could earn her the right to be in the USA gym at some point down the road.
Hogan is more willing to dive into that tricky territory. Hayley is a player with Olympic potential, he said. Ive been coaching in the international game and the USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline for 12 years and have trained a lot of Olympians, and Hayley has what it takes. I have no doubt Hayley will continue to improve her game because of her work ethic, determination, focus, and passion for playing volleyball and representing her country.
Hodson’s Tstreet teammate Kathryn Plummer (a 6’6″ junior setter from Aliso Niguel High School) feels Hodson will excel in the future because of the things she does that fly under the radar.
She focuses on the little things instead of the big things, Plummer said. That and her character will allow her to go as far as she wants to go. She’s one of the most mature young women Ive ever met and it shows when you talk to her. She will make anybody feel important even if the subject is the most ridiculous thing ever. She’s a listener. She has so much potential.
Poulter concurred: In any aspect of her life Hayley will strive 100 percent to achieve the results she wants, whether it be in volleyball or in a future career. Hayley’s determination sets her apart from most 18-year-olds and will continue to propel her forward. She has a ton of potential to reach enormous feats in whatever she does.
Hodson, who as of this writing had just been invited back into the national team gym and who hopes to compete for the junior national team in the U20 World Championships in Cyprus this summer, does indeed have big plans for the future, ones that include NCAA titles and Olympic gold medals. But those grandiose goals take a back seat to the real meaning she derives from the sport.
I think volleyball is a great means to learn to work with other people and build relationships and character, she said. At the end of the day, 10 years from now Id like to have an NCAA championship and an Olympic gold medal under my belt. But it’s not about the trophy. It’s about the process of getting there and setting goals and trying to obtain them. It’s like the motto, Shoot for the moon and if you miss youll land among stars.
Note to the moon: Prepare for company.