Former Sailor ‘fearless’ in Regis Rangers’ run for national volleyball title
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When the Regis Rangers lost to Gannon University in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II women’s national volleyball tournament earlier this month, nobody would have blamed former Steamboat Springs High School standout Maddie Labor if she walked off the court disappointed.
But instead, she left the court hungry.
“I left the court with the drive and the hunger to go back, and the hunger to actually win a national championship because now we have the tools in our toolbox to be able to do that, and we have the experience under our belt of going to this big stage and competing against all these top ranked teams,” Labor said. “We have the fight in us and the grit in us to pull out wins at that level. Having a taste of it makes you that much more hungry to go back, and enjoy it that much more.”
Gannon beat the Regis Rangers in straight sets Dec. 7 to knock the Colorado team out of the national championships. Gannon lost to Florida Souther in the semifinals. The Florida team fell to eventual national champion Concordia-St. Paul. It was the Golden Bears’ ninth title in the past 11 years.
But Labor found a silver lining in the season-ending match. She said she relished the chance to enjoy the experience, to be a role model for the young women she visited at a Florida elementary school during the tournament and she’ll never forget the feeling she had when she stepped onto the court for the biggest match she has ever played.
“We didn’t play so well the first round, but I think that is because we are such a young team — we only are going to graduate one senior and the rest are freshmen, sophomores and juniors,” Labor said. “We were so amazed that we got there that we kind of forgot that we deserved to be there.
“Just walking out there you get so excited … once you touch the floor, there is a rush of adrenaline comes on you,” Labor explained. “Especially when you are warming up before the match, and you are so antsy to get it started, but you are also trying so hard to live in the moment because you know that you are not going to get this moment again.”
Labor is a 2016 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School where she was a standout in both volleyball and tennis. As a Sailor, Labor was an all-conference selection and team captain on both teams. She was also a three-time regional champion in tennis.
But her college volleyball got off to a slow start after she blew out her anterior cruciate ligament playing a tennis match for the Sailors during her senior year of high school. The injury left her on the sidelines in the fall of her freshman year at Regis, and after recovering, she couldn’t wait to get back on the court.
“Maddie was a big part of the drive that the team had this year, and I think drive is something that she has always had and that’s why we recruited her,” said Joel List, Regis’s first-year head coach. “I think being off the court that year really instilled a lot of drive in her to get onto the court, and I think that fed into the team and the focus we had this year.”
Labor returned during the spring season and spent her summer working hard to earn a starting position on this year’s team. She appeared in 31 matches and made one start. She recorded two kills, had 73 digs and netted five service aces as a defensive specialist for the Rangers.
“I worked my butt off in the summer to earn a starting position for the fall,” Labor said. “We lost six seniors who were all starters, we had a first-year head coach, and it was totally set to be a rebuilding year. But then all of sudden we hit the ground running.”
The team won 14 of its first 15 games including a huge win over No. 10 Augustana University in the second match of the season. The squad tied for the RMAC title with a 31-4 record and a 17-1 mark in conference play and a share of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title.
The team went on to win the RMAC Tournament and then the NCAA South Central Regional, earning a shot in the NCAA National Quarterfinals.
It was a big year for Labor personally as well as she battled to overcome her inner demons that were fueled by fears of re-injuring her knee. She felt that she had lost the aggressive nature that had helped her soar in the high school levels, and early on in the season, she knew she needed a reminder of why she loved the game and who she was as a player.
So she took a Sharpie and wrote the word “FEARLESS” across the toe of her shoe.
“I wrote that on my shoe in the middle of the season, and it carried me throughout,” Labor said. “When I started playing timid on the court in the Elite 8, and I was not getting to as many balls as I was known for getting to, I just looked down at my foot and that ‘FEARLESS’ just looked right back at me and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, you are right, that’s what I’m supposed to do.’”
For Labor, who has long dreamed of playing volleyball at the college level, the season inspired new dreams and new goals for the future.
“The dream when I was in high school was to play for a program that was good, but I never thought in a million years that I would be lucky enough to be in a program that is this great and will be amazing in the future,” Labor said. “I never thought that the dream would be so big as winning a national championship or even getting there … Now my dream is to hold that national championships trophy up at the end of the tournament, which is a cool driving factor.”
Off the court, Labor, a biology and neuroscience major with a minor in Spanish, is on the RMAC Academic Honor Roll with a 3.87 GPA.
“Maddie also has a really cool kind of funny side to her,” List said. “She does a good job of keeping practice light, and she may be considered a little bit of a jokester and prankster on the team at times … she has a very bright future ahead of her at Regis.”
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