Abby Thelen began playing volleyball at the age of 12, participating on club teams in her native Fort Mitchell, Ky. The sport soon became her passion.
However, volleyball served up its obstacles like the one delivered to her at age 14, when she was cut from her club team. Suddenly, Thelen was out of her element; off the court, and not liking it one bit.
Instead of accepting defeat, Thelen used the experience to fuel her fire and improve herself as a player.
“That year I worked really hard,” Thelen said. “I worked with a personal trainer on quickness, foot agility and speed. It was tough, but it ended up being something that was really rewarding.”
Thelen ended up earning a scholarship to Seton Hall and an opportunity to play in the Big East. Thelen is grateful for the opportunity to don the blue and white for the first three years of her collegiate career.
“It means everything,” Thelen said. “That was my big goal, and I worked for it and I accomplished it.”
Thelen made an instant impact upon her arrival to South Orange, and has excelled even after having to make a position switch to outside hitter prior to last season.
Coach Allison Yaeger knew that the adjustment would be one that Thelen could handle.
“We really focus a lot on our outside hitters, and we knew she was one of the best players in this gym and we weren’t utilizing her to where we wanted to,” Yaeger said. “We wanted her to be a go-to player, but we couldn’t make her a go-to player in the middle.”
Thelen tallied 197 kills as a freshman, but that total skyrocketed to 315 in her sophomore season, her first playing on the outside. As a junior, Thelen has improved her attacking presence even further, amassing 332 kills in just 89 sets played, which is 17 more kills than her total from last year in 15 fewer sets.
“It’s definitely been something that has been different for me, considering that I came in as a middle hitter,” Thelen said.
However, what is unique about Thelen’s 2017 campaign has been her ability to excel in year two of this new role. With the addition of Kentucky graduate-transfer Sharay Barnes, along with Dominique Mason’s growth in year two in the program, Thelen has become the leader of what is a dominant attack for the Pirates.
“I think mentally she has gotten a lot better,” Yaeger said. “She has a lot more confidence in herself that has come in the last couple years.
Coming into this season, people weren’t expecting her to be what she is. I think everyone is really surprised and can’t believe the kind of player she’s turned out to be.”
Not only has Yaeger been a big believer in Thelen, but so have her teammates over her three seasons at Seton Hall. This season in particular, Thelen points to two upperclassmen leaders, senior Sarah Kenneweg and Barnes, as individuals who have pushed her each day to improve her game.
“They both really push me, they’re always on me,” Thelen said. “It’s to the point where they just expect things from me. It’s no longer ‘can you do this,’ it’s ‘you need to do this. You need to get this done.’ I really respect that from them.”
With confidence and her teammates’ support, Thelen has set lofty goals for herself and for the team.
“I want to make it to the Big East Tournament and hopefully make it to NCAAs,” Thelen said. “Personally I would like to make [the] conference team. That’s a big thing for me because I wasn’t on it last year and I’d really like to be on it this year.”
Yaeger believes Thelen can achieve that and more, as long as she puts in the work commits herself to it.
“I expect Abby to set records for us,” Yaeger said. “I know that she can achieve those goals if she sets her mind to it.”
Matt Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mambrose97.