Following a decorated career, Maddie Whittington collected a few additional honors as a member of the Stillwater volleyball program on Wednesday, Nov. 6 at the St. Paul River Centre.
In addition to receiving Class AAA First Team All-State honors for the second year in a row, the senior was presented the Minnesota Ms. Baden Volleyball Award during the girls’ state high school volleyball tournament banquet.
“There was so many amazing athletes nominated and up for the award, to think that I was the one who won, I was really shocked and grateful for everything,” Whittington said.
The Ms. Baden Volleyball Award is presented by the Minnesota Volleyball Coaches Association each year to a senior based on career achievements and accomplishments. Joining Whittington in this year’s list of finalists were: Olivia Tjernagel of Mayer Lutheran, Cianna Selbitschka of North Branch, Skyler Germann of Minnetonka and Elizabeth Helmich of Wayzata.
“To think my name is now on that list is insane to me,” Whittington said. “There’s so many deserving athletes that could be on the list. That they chose me really means a lot.”
Stillwater coach Bob Fisher said Whittington is a deserving recipient. Stillwater won the Suburban East Conference championship in 2018 and two of the program’s three state tournament appearances (2017 and 2018) occurred during Whittington’s tenure. The Ponies compiled an 85-38 record during that span.
“She is totally, absolutely worthy of the honor,” Fisher said. “As the competition got better, Maddie just played right up to their level and showed shy she should be Ms. Baden Volleyball. There was nobody we played that was over her head and the schedule we played every year was tough — that probably helped.”
Whittington started playing for the Ponies as a freshman and recorded 806 kills and 350 blocks in what turned out to be just three seasons.
“She’s got a fire that just burns to win,” Fisher said. “She’s just one of those players that will at times just turn and — not audibly, but by the way she plays — just say jump on my back.”
Whittington missed her entire sophomore season after tearing the ACL, MCL and meniscus — a triple whammy that required an even longer rehabilitation schedule than following a normal ACL surgery. It was one of the challenges that helped Whittington appreciate this latest honor even more.
“It really makes me think about all the times I woke up early to go to physical therapy for me knee or early morning practice when I could have been sleeping in,” Whittington said. “It really makes it all worth it in the end."
She said the recovery took six-and-a-half to seven months, but even then it wasn't all smooth sailing.
"I was really worried the whole time that I was never going to be the player I wanted to be," Whittington said. "That was a huge setback for me. I had to remind me of the goals I set for me when I was younger.
“I didn’t step on the court once (as a sophomore). That was the hardest thing I could imagine doing and I struggled a lot, but I grew a lot from it as well and came out a different player. I really owe it to my coaches and my parents and my teammates. I struggled a lot my 2017 seasons and in 2018 finding the love again. I could not have done it myself. I owe everything to those people.”
She earned all-state honors as a junior after helping the Ponies advance to the state semifinals, but didn’t feel entirely comfortable throughout much of the season.
“I probably felt like myself November of last year where it felt 100 percent,” said Whittington, who listed that season as the most memorable of her career. “That’s where I really found the love for the game again. After my injury it was hard. It was really hard to play and be calm enough to keep myself injury free. Making it back to state in 2018 and winning in the first round, the whole experience of the entire season was something I’ll never forget.”
Whittington plans to continue her athletic and academic career at the University of Illinois. Her mother Missi (Wheeler) Whittington played volleyball at Illinois and that connection. Maddie visited in September of 2017 and committed in November of that same year.
“My mom played volleyball and she’s from there, so I have family around there as well,” Whittington said. “I went there for a visit and immediately fell in love with the campus and the players and the coaches and the game-day environment and everything else.
“It was great for me. I like preparing for those kinds of things and I didn’t ever have a doubt in my mind these last few years.”
Illinois advanced to the Final Four a year ago when it was held at Target Center, losing to Nebraska 3-2 in the semifinals.
Whittington is eager to join the Illini, and she won’t have to wait long. She is already taking college classes and will graduate from Stillwater Area High School in January, allowing her to enroll at Illinois this winter.
“It’s really a quick turnaround,” Whittington said. “During the season I was not really thinking much about Illinois, but just focused on getting through the season and being the best that I could be, but now my mind has gone to Illinois.”
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at firstname.lastname@example.org