According to the American Volleyball Coaches Association, there was no better volleyball player in the country last week than Rice sophomore setter Madison McDaniel. 

McDaniel was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week for her performances in wins over conference rivals No. 22 Western Kentucky University and the University of Southern Mississippi last week. In the two wins, she posted a combined 109 assists and 27 digs in eight total sets. Although McDaniel thought she played well this week, she said she was surprised by the award.

“I was so excited,” McDaniel said. “I actually didn’t really know until I got tagged in a Twitter post then got a call from my old club coach, and he told me how huge of a deal it was.”

The award was a culmination of a long journey — a journey that led her less than an hour’s drive from her home. McDaniel hails from The Woodlands, TX, just under 40 miles from Rice. According to McDaniel, her father first pushed her to play volleyball, but her older sister Morgan first inspired her to commit to the sport. 

“[My sister] was trying out and of course I wanted to be like her,” McDaniel said. “So when I was in fourth grade I started playing on my first club team.”

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McDaniel continued playing on club and school teams while honing her skills throughout middle school and high school in The Woodlands. According to McDaniel, it was easy for her to fall in love with volleyball. 

“My favorite part about volleyball is that there is constant action on the court,” McDaniel said. “You see the ball and you instantly react, and you’re always needed for something.”

While attending high school, McDaniel was honored as an AVCA Phenom in 2012 and was named to the high school All-Texas Second Team in 2013 and 2014. After high school, McDaniel chose to attend Arizona State University. She appeared in 25 sets as a freshman, accumulating 23 kills, 14 kills and 12 blocks. After her freshman year, however, she chose to transfer to Rice, a decision she said was easy after meeting with the team. 

“Of course when I visited I fell in love with the coaches and the players,” McDaniel said. “I have never played with a group of girls who are so nice and supportive of one another.”

Since coming to Rice, McDaniel has accumulated 49 kills, 892 assists, 266 digs and 44 blocks. She has been named Conference USA setter of the week five times. While McDaniel is honored to receive the individual award, she remains focused on team-oriented goals. Currently, the Owls are 19-9 with a 9-5 record in Conference USA. They have two games remaining before the conference tournament begins on Nov. 20 in San Antonio. According to McDaniel, the team is hoping for much more success. 

“We have so much talent in all areas of the court and we are always composed in tough situations,” McDaniel said. “I really think this will help push us to hopefully finish out the season by winning the conference championship.”

The Owls’ next game is Thursday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. in Tudor Fieldhouse against the University of Texas, El Paso. Rice volleyball will be celebrating Senior Night to honor graduating seniors Kyley Reed, Kimberly Vaio and Noelle Whitlock. The Owls will then have one final road match against the University of Alabama, Birmingham to conclude the regular season.