Photo by Cody Glassett
Talent alone is not enough to propel a team beyond the ranks of the good and into the realm of the great. While natural physical ability among players cannot be discounted, leadership and experience are equally valuable on the path to achieving great things. The 2017 UVU volleyball team not only has its share of talent but is fortunate to be led by a handful of seasoned veterans. Head coach Sam Atoa, who is in his 19th season at the helm, is among the longer-tenured coaches in Division I sports. Adding to the experience brought by Atoa, the Wolverines benefit from the maturity offered by having five seniors on the roster.
While senior collegiate athletes by definition are experienced, a certain intangible quality is required for these players to be deemed leaders. If any player on the squad embodies the characteristics of leadership it is middle blocker Madison Dennison.
The senior from Pleasant Grove leads by example in the locker room as well as on the court, where she is currently leading the nation in blocks and is second on the team in kills. Her heroic efforts throughout her career have not gone unnoticed. She received 2016 all-conference accolades following a stellar junior season and was a 2017 preseason selection for the same appointment.
Dennison is not unaccustomed to receiving individual awards, having been named first team all-state after leading her high school team to back-to-back titles, and earning WAC all-freshman team honors after her first season. As for where her focus lies, though, individual fanfare is absent from the list.
“What I want is to have no regrets,” she said. “Since it’s my last year, each game is just counting down as the last games I’ll ever play.”
As for her primary goal, she remains focused on the team.
“At the end of the year, we want to be WAC champs,” she said.
While a few games remain to be played, the Wolverines are definitely on the right trajectory to attain this goal. As the end of the conference season draws near, the team is certainly on the hunt to win its first conference title since joining the WAC in 2013.
Among those who will be cheering loudest during the team’s quest for a title is Madison’s husband Dustin, who is another standout UVU student athlete. A nationally ranked and NCAA Tournament qualifying wrestler, Dustin is definitely accomplished in his own right.
Two student athletes in the same marriage presents a unique set of challenges, the greatest being, according to Madison, sharing one car between them. Along with the challenges presented by two hectic schedules, however, is the benefit of a spouse that understands perfectly the stress caused by balancing both school and sport. A partner that explicitly appreciates the agony of defeat and the thrill of success is surely invaluable, and the Dennison’s are hoping for many successes this year.
While only time will tell if this season’s UVU squad is destined for greatness, she has certainly done her part in putting the Wolverines into the championship conversation. Dennison has already garnered two WAC player of the week nods this season, which makes four for her career.
With the unique combination of talent, experience and leadership within the team, the Wolverines seem sufficiently set up for success in 2017, and Dennison is playing an irreplaceable role.