The first time Hailey Brooke McFadden tried to make a volleyball team, she failed pretty miserably in her estimation.
But much to the relief of the coaches at both Wake Christian Academy and Wake Forest University, she didn’t quit.
Making the Bulldogs’ team in seventh grade was the start of a great career for the 5-6 senior outside hitter, who has been the best player in WCA history and is the centerpiece of their best team. And she has committed to sign with the Deacons.
WCA was 19-6 and 4-1 in TISAC play through Wednesday, and second-year head coach Malcolm Deans said McFadden is a big reason for the success.
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“As a player, she has great leadership and a great volleyball IQ,” Deans said of McFadden. “She knows what to do when we’ve got to have a point. She picks up on what another team does really well.
“From a coaching perspective, to have a senior captain who loves the sport who is also willing to invest in the other athletes in the program is really special. That shows a good quality of character. She’s not just in it for herself.”
What McFadden may have done as a multi-sport athlete, no one will ever know. But she fell in love with volleyball as a youngster after also having experience with soccer and softball camps, and even after she was cut from the sixth-grade team she came back for another shot the next season.
“I focused on it in about the seventh grade,” said McFadden, her team’s sole captain. “After I didn’t make the middle school team in sixth grade my parents really encouraged me. I didn’t play much as a seventh-grader, but my parents put me in Triangle Volleyball Club after that and I practiced with the varsity as an eighth-grader.
“Volleyball is not only competitive but it’s also really fun. And I like the non-contact aspect. I like the strategy. Every time I play I learn something new.”
Prepvolleyball.com has named McFadden a “senior ace,” reserved for the top 150 players in the country. McFadden leads the Bulldogs in serve percentage at 94.6 percent, in kills at 5.8 per game and is second in digs at 4.3.
The all-around game attracted the offer from Wake Forest, and also attention from Yale, Cincinnati and William & Mary among others.
“I picked Wake Forest because it’s a beautiful campus and I just love the coaching staff,” said McFadden, who has made nothing but ‘As’ in high school. “They’re three of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and it’s a great academic school. I’m interested in pre-law. And the food is really good.”
McFadden – who grew up an N.C. State fan since her father Nick and mother Amanda attended the school – said Ken Murczek’s staff has told her she will be a libero for the Deacons.
“I like that role,” she said. “The strongest part of my game, I think, is my attitude. I can move on from mistakes. You can’t worry after you make a bad play. Anyone can be good with the sport but not everybody can be good with the head game.”
It has also translated to her play on the beach, where her partners in national competition have been Shelby Raymond from North Raleigh Christian along with Notre Dame’s Maddie Plumlee, whose brothers have played basketball at Duke.
“I like beach more because you have to connect with your partner so much,” she said. “When you’re in six-man you may not get a touch for six or seven plays. In beach you just have to beat one girl, so you don’t want to be that girl. My goal is always to keep the ball in play, in system and run the offense.”
McFadden said she thinks the Bulldogs can go a long way in the NCISAA Tournament after failing to make the field last year. WCA was fourth in the NCCSA state tournament during her freshman season.
“I don’t know if we have a ceiling this year,” she said. “We could definitely be very competitive and win the conference.
“Emily Smith has done a great job at center. She has a great attitude and pushes forward. Freshman Lauren Tomasulo has done a great job stepping up at libero. And our middle blocker Marley Wilson has had so many kills. She finds the open spots and gets the ball there.”
Deans said one thing he’ll miss when McFadden heads to Winston-Salem is how much she has helped the younger girls in the program.
“Is Wake Christian volleyball going to hit rock bottom when a great player graduates, or will we be able to sustain winning after she’s gone?” he asked rhetorically. “But I know she wants WCA to continue to do well, and that’s a great attitude for a senior.”