Dorman High School outside hitter Thayer Hall became the first player representing the state of South Carolina ever to win the Gatorade National Player of the Year award on Sunday night.
Gatorade honors were nothing new for the Under Armour All-American and U.S. Junior National Team member, who was South Carolina’s Gatorade state player of the year each of the last four years, but the surprise and honor was evident with the still in awe Hall as VolleyMob sat down with her on Monday morning.
Hall talked about her senior year, the surprise announcement at a family dinner last night and what lies ahead at the University of Florida, where she has already enrolled this spring.
You have been South Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year each of the last four years. Did you ever think you would be the national player of the year?
Definitely not. When I first received this award, it was one of the biggest deals ever. I had never even considered I would be able to have it as a state winner. So to be named a top three finalist and then to have April Ross walk in my living room with the Gatorade national player of the year trophy was completely unexpected and obviously one of the highest honors I think I will ever receive.
For those who haven’t watched the video yet, tell us how Olympian, professional beach star and 1999-2000 Gatorade Player of the Year April Ross surprised you to tell you that you won?
So last night we had a family and friends dinner and just had some people over because we filmed yesterday at my high school. So, the film crew was there and my mom told me it was just a video about being a consecutive state winner and so I just went along with it. Why would my mom lie to me? So, I didn’t think twice about it. And my head high school coach stood up just to say a few words about my career and then someone tapped on my shoulder and said excuse me. And I turned around and it was April Ross with the trophy. It was a little hard to catch my breathe for a second, but everybody kept the secret pretty well. It was awesome, it was amazing, it was a great weekend, first weekend home from college and to have all my best friends and closest friends and family there to share that moment with was awesome.
You are the first Gatorade Player of the Year from South Carolina to win the award in its history. What does that mean to you?
I think that throughout my career it has been a huge goal of mine with every team I have been a part of to put South Carolina on the map. I was a part of the first team to bring home an AAU national championship and then we brought three consecutive ones home. Because of the success that my club teams have had in the past and what my high school teams have done – we’ve been to state three years in a row, and come home with two state championships consecutively – it is definitely opening the eyes that volleyball is not just Midwest or up north. So, I am super excited for the future. I am excited for the athletes coming up in programs across the state, new clubs coming out. I think that it is definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with and it can only go up from here.
As part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program, you got to pick a national or local sports organization to receive a $1,000 grant. Who did you select?
I haven’t turned it in yet, but I have decided what I am going to do… I played for Upward Stars, which is the competitive side of Upward Sports. Upward Sports is a nation-wide program that actually started here in Spartanburg. The man who started it goes to my church. They travel all across the nation and even across the world doing little camps with basketball or certain sports just to get kids involved and try to take their minds off some of the hardest times in their lives. It is a non-profit organization that I have been a part of. I used to play Upward basketball when I was little and so I am super excited to give back and be a part of the mission that they are on.
Talk about your senior season and the team that got you here? Obviously you didn’t do it alone and you had to do something truly spectacular to earn national player of the year honors. Is there anyone that you give a shoutout to as you tell me about your senior season?
I have said it before and I will say it again until the day I die that my teammates deserve all of the credit for this. There are six girls on the court at all times and every rally has to be three touches, and I definitely couldn’t do this alone.
Anna Renwick, our libero, she has grown up like my little sister. We were peppering at a baseball tournament and I decided to teach her how to pass. And she just comes off like a stellar libero. She has division I schools looking at her from freshman year and she is just a stud. We went to state my 10th grade year and she wasn’t here yet and we didn’t win. And then we went my 11th and 12th grade years and she was the libero and we won easily both times. I think she is one of the biggest difference makers that I will ever get to play with. Just her demeanor, her leadership through her actions, she is just amazing. She deserves the greatest program, she deserves the greatest coaches. She definitely does not get the recognition that she deserves and I could not thank her enough for everything she has done for me and the friendship and sisterhood that we have established. She is definitely the little sister I never had. So, between Anna and Coach (Paula) Kirkland, my senior year was everything I wished it could be.
Your senior year culminated in Kansas City, playing in the Under Armour All-American Match on the NCAA Tournament stage and earning MVP honors. Tell us about that experience, being able to play with the best of the best on the high school level.
So those are all of the girls that I play in club and that I see across the net all of the time and that I am going to see across the net the next four years, so to be able to step on the same side as them was pretty spectacular. So, East side won the first two sets and then we lost the next two sets. To go in after an hour and a half of working together with practices and pull out a five-set thriller was… you just can’t ask for anything better. It was, in my opinion, one of the best experiences I will ever have. They treated us so well. There was never a dull moment. The girls were awesome, the staff was amazing. It was everything that we hoped it would be.
It has been a big year for you, also competing with the U.S. Junior National Team, which won the NORCECA Women’s Under-20 Championship over the summer, and earning MVP honors? How did that experience prepare you for a standout senior year?
Being able to again play with the best of the best… so I was on the women’s junior national team instead of the youth junior national team because was birthday was three days too early to be on the youth team. So, all of the girls that are my age, that I go on visits with and that I will play with in college, I don’t get to play with them, I play up. I am ultimately thankful for that. I have always played up in club. I am so thankful that I get to play with girls that are at least a year and sometimes two or three years older than me that have competed for national championships in college and have already gotten to play at that level. Just to get to play alongside and learn under girls like that Khalia Lanier and Lexi Sun and the entire roster… I could never everybody and tell you something that I changed from my game or adjusted my game from learning under them … but to come out MVP was totally unexpected, but again, an amazing honor. I can’t thank Jerritt Elliott from Texas for kind of taking a gamble with me and starting me that first match and just kind of letting me flourish and really be the kind of player that I am and not have to worry about who was watching or what the outcome may be.
You don’t really get time to enjoy this award or any of your high school accomplishments as you have already joined your college team as an early enrollee. Practices started last week. Now you are just another star among many stars. What was your first week like?
The girls are awesome. They are so welcoming. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other team. Mary Wise is the best leader, in my opinion, across the whole nation. I chose the best coaching staff along with the best team and I am definitely looking forward to the next four years, going back and competing for another national championship, because we will be back. I don’t like to lose.