By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Most of the 130 or so West Virginia high schools have volleyball as a sport.
Few, if any of them, have a player as happy to be on the court as Independence’s Brooke Foley.
Her play alone, whether setting the ball or hitting it as if she were a six-footer, sets her apart.
But then there’s her hustle, determination and that constant smile.
“Volleyball is probably the most fun part of my life,” Foley said. “When I’m on the floor, I’m stress-free. Nothing else matters except the game.”
Her love of the game carries over to practices, where she’s a constant live wire, and even to the time just before a game.
“Brooke always has something fun going on,” coach Patty Bryant said. “Last year she gave all the girls nicknames, and mine was ‘Hitler.’ That got the girls laughing, and she enjoys that sort of stuff.
“Before a tournament, she’ll march them. She’ll say, ‘Left, right, left, right... I don’t know what you’ve been told, Independence is going to win the gold!’ The girls will repeat anything she says. She’s very imaginative and creative.”
It’s not always fun and games, however. Foley takes her leadership role seriously.
“I feel like (fellow junior) Anne Bass and I are the leaders. If we’re down, it brings the whole team down,” she said. “They thrive on us, so we have to set a good example so they’ll be enthused about the game.”
That leadership sometimes requires some tough love.
“Brooke is constantly talking on the floor, and if someone is doing something they shouldn’t, she doesn’t hesitate to tell them,” Bryant said. “That’s what a leader does.
“She has the heart to never give up, and she gets everyone else involved in the game.”
Talk is one thing. Backing it up is another. Foley gets it done.
“I’ve had some very good setters in the past, and Brooke is right up there (with), if not above, any of them,” Bryant said.
“She wants to play every position on the floor — setter, hitter and defense. She wants to do it all, and that’s what is so neat about her: She gives you 100 percent every time she hits the floor.”
A setter, like the quarterback on a football team, touches the ball on almost every play and tries to make something happen.
It’s not always easy. If the first pass is made poorly, the setter has to somehow get under the ball and loft a quality set to her hitters.
“Setting is a lot harder than people think,” Foley said. “You have to be really aggressive and get the ball where it needs to be. No matter what type of pass you have.”
She practices setting all the time, even at home. And not just with volleyballs.
“I even set with softballs and basketballs. Anything to get my fingers stronger,” she said.
But as deadly as Foley is with her sets, she doesn’t always look for a teammate. Like a point guard in basketball, she reads the floor, and if she sees a hole in the opponent’s defense, she’s not afraid to make the hit herself.
With extreme prejudice.
“I feel like if I was six foot, I’d be unstoppable,” she laughed. “I’ve always loved to hit, even in middle school. I wanted to be up at the net, and when I get a hit, it’s the best feeling ever.
“But you have to have a setter, or you won’t score.”
The Patriots are now 21-6-2 following a sweep of their quad match Saturday in Coal City. Foley thinks the Patriots have made a nice turnaround in what had been considered a rebuilding year.
“At the beginning of the season I had my doubts. In the summer we went to Philip Barbour and we lost every single game,” she said.
“But we’ve got our teamwork together and we’ve come a long way. If we keep working, we’ll be good.”
She would know. After all, she’s the leader of the team.
— E-mail: dstillwell@