- Who : Megan Theiller, Fairfield University, John Jay-East Fishkill grad
- What : Outside hitter for Fairfield, 18-0 in MAAC
- Coming up: MAAC Tournament, this weekend at Fairfield
HOPEWELL JUNCTION, N.Y. -- Megan Theiller seemed destined for the volleyball court since she was born. The Hopewell Junction woman has delivered fabulously, leading Fairfield University to historic heights.
Theiller, a junior and a graduate of John Jay, earned Player of the Week honors four times this year as the Stags rolled to an 18-0 record in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and 26-5 overall. Fairfield is the No. 1 seed and host for this weekend’s MAAC conference championship. The winner advances to the NCAA Tournament. Fairfield is seeking its second straight trip to the tournament and fourth bid in five years.
Theiller is one of the Stags’ stars. She amassed 444 kills, 494 points, 25 aces and played every set. She also became the 13th player in Fairfield history to surpass 1,000 career kills.
“I’m proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish,’’ said Theiller, a 5-foot, 10-inch outside hitter. “But I also know there’s a lot more to achieve. The one thing I always think about is to ‘be humble, stay hungry.’ I know I’ve been able to be successful because of my teammates and coaches.”
Theiller came to Fairfield after a standout career at John Jay, where she was named the Section 1 Co-Player of the Year in 2013. She helped the Patriots win Section and Regional championships as a senior.
She could have followed in the footsteps of her mother, Kathy, who played volleyball at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, a 20-minute drive from East Fishkill. “Marist is a beautiful school and I did consider it,’’ Megan said. “But I wanted to go a little further away. Fairfield is the perfect distance. It’s about an hour from home, it’s a beautiful campus and I thought it was the best place for me for volleyball and academics.”
Kathy and her husband, Phil, a former football player at RPI, met playing volleyball. Their passion for the sport rubbed off naturally on their daughter. “When I was born, they gave me a toy volleyball,’’ Megan said. “I would watch them play in outdoor tournaments all around New York. I started out playing in the backyard with my parents.”
Megan also played softball, and joined her first volleyball team when she was in seventh grade. She continued playing both sports until her junior year in high school. “I pretty much did all sports,’’ Megan said. “I still miss softball. But I love the intensity of volleyball. I love how on every play something is happening.”
She made an impact from the outset at Fairfield, where she was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year and helped the team to a 19-12 record. She led the team in kills and played in every set.
“I really didn’t what to expect,’’ she said. “I worked really hard going into my freshman year, and I just kept working every single day to try and get better. I set my goals high, but I didn’t know what role I would have coming in.”
Theiller benefitted from the return of coach Todd Kress to the Fairfield bench. The all-time leader in coaching victories at Fairfield, he coached the Stags from 1995-98 before moving on to other positions. He returned in 2014, and added six stellar freshman to the lineup last year. The Stags have just one senior on this year’s roster.
“Before I came, they had a great senior class,’’ Theiller said. “I knew once I saw that group of girls last year that it was a special group. When you have everybody on the team working toward a common goal, you can make great things happen.”
While Theiller said her volleyball skills have improved, adjusting to the intensity of the college game has been the biggest challenge. “It’s a huge part of it,’’ Theiller said. “My mental game has improved dramatically. It’s a long season. Staying positive and working with teammates helps keep you mentally disciplined. I know that what I do in August and September has a huge impact as the season goes forward.”
The season’s biggest stage plays out this weekend. Fairfield has won 20 straight matches, but has been forced to five games in two of its last three matches. Every team in the MAAC is gunning to take down the Stags. “It doesn’t matter who beats us,’’ Theiller said. “If we lose, everyone else in the league is happy about it. It’s kind of fun when everyone is gunning for you. We’ll be able to handle it. We like to have that underdog mentality.”
Fairfield plays on Saturday against the winner of a match Friday between Rider and Siena. Marist is the No. 2 seed, and could be waiting for Fairfield in the final. “I always look forward to playing them,’’ said Theiller, who was the MAAC Tournament MVP last year. “One of my best friends is on the team. I always want to go in there and beat them.”
The MAAC champion is the only conference team invited to the NCAA Tournament. Fairfield has yet to win a match in the NCAAs in eight appearances, and with an RPI of 132, few would expect them to do so this year. Polls and projections, as the nation learned last week, don’t mean a lot, in politics or sports.
“We don’t pay much attention to the RPI,’’ Theiller said. “There is so much more to a team than what you see on paper. We know we can play with anyone.”
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