Unlike most people who play a Division I sport, Maddie Bryant did not begin playing until the eighth grade. She actually didn’t want to play volleyball at all. She wasn’t one of those people who had a magical feeling that she was destined to play volleyball and she didn’t even want to try out for her school’s team.
The sophomore outside hitter has been leading the Georgia Southern volleyball team on offense since she’s become an Eagle, but her passion has been reignited with help from Head Coach Chad Willis.
The 6-foot-2 standout played pitcher and first baseman in softball up until eighth grade and only ventured into volleyball because the entire softball team was required to tryout for the team. She was hesitant at first, since the basketball coach was heavily recruiting her as well.
“I actually ended up loving it more than softball,” she said. “One, because it was indoors and because the team aspect was just so much more fun.”
Her dad was surprised by the sudden sport change and was a little bit upset about losing his ‘softball dad’ title. When her family relocated to Cumming, Georgia, she found the A5 Club where she started to attend skills camps.
That one year of training set her up to make the varsity volleyball team as a freshman and make the two’s team at her club, usually reserved for upperclassmen. This time period is also when she had her first big growth spurt and grew to be 5-foot-11 at the age of 14.
“That was really surprising for me because I had just started playing,” she said. “I didn’t think I was that good.”
Though she lettered every year of high school, she became nervous when senior year rolled around.
When she looked around at all of her peers, she soon realized she was one of the few who didn’t commit yet.
Her dad had happily settled into his ‘volleyball dad’ role while she named First-Team All County for three seasons, First-Team All State, First-Team All area for two years, All-Area Player of the Year her senior season and led the entire state of Georgia in kills from all classifications. She even holds the second-highest record for most kills in a season in Georgia history. She began making contacts with more college coaches but stopped looking for a home when she came to Statesboro.
“I came on a visit to Georgia Southern and fell in love with it immediately,” she said, laughing. “I just walked on campus, and like everyone says, you just have that feeling.”
Now that she is a collegiate athlete, not surprisingly, most of her free time goes to sleeping or trying to give her body a little bit of TLC. But, she enjoys spending time outdoors and discovering new places with her friends while blasting country music with the windows down. When she goes home, she brings her teammates who live farther away to go to the lake with her. Even though some people would think that Statesboro is an unadventurous place, she has no issues with the small town atmosphere.
“My team mate Delaney and I, we always go on drives and discover random parts of Statesboro that are just so pretty,” she said. “There’s a pasture of cows that we always go to and they’ll come up and interact with us, it’s so fun.”
As a sophomore, Bryant had a front row seat for the culture change in the volleyball program. This offseason saw a coaching staff overhaul, which the team has already greatly benefited from. The team holds a 5-6 record going into conference play, compared to last year’s 5-8 beginning record which included two losing streaks of at least four games.
“It’s been a tremendous change just from last fall to right now,” she said. “[They] have helped implement this culture to where we want to get better…It’s not…we have to practice, it’s we get to practice and improve our skills and it’s really fun now.”
Even though she has proven to be a strong competitor, she sometimes lacks confidence in her abilities. In her individual meetings with Willis, he constantly reminds her that numbers don’t lie.
Since coming to GS, Bryant has been an offensive leader. Last season as a freshman, she finished third on the team in kills with 261 total and saw action in all 31 games. This season, she has notched 105 kills and 87 digs in 11 games, while holding a .139 hitting percentage.
Before games, Bryant still becomes nervous. She gets to the gym at least an hour before warm ups begin to clear her mind. She doesn’t like to listen to music once she is actually in the venue, but on the way to the gym she’s probably listening to Young Thug or anything on Spotify’s Rap Caviar playlist.
Bryant’s late start did not stop her from achieving her ultimate goal, which was becoming a Division I athlete. With a new and improved volleyball program, she hopes to continue her success.
Amanda Arnold, The George-Anne Sports Editor, email@example.com