High Point University’s first-year middle blocker Molly Livingston waited patiently behind the volleyball net during the Oct. 9 match against the Radford University Highlanders.
Like all great hunters, she knew there was no need to rush until the opportunity arose. She simply waited at her position behind the net, holding up three fingers with her right hand. Black tape accented her index digit.
Even when the Radford players, decked out in bright crimson, served and scurried into defensive formation, Livingston stood stock still. Her hands crawled up along the net like a spider slowly creeping towards its prey. Her eyes followed the floating white ball, sharply, intently.
And then, when the ball returned, she snapped into action.
She blocked. She spiked. She killed.
Livingston seemingly dominated the whole match, but remained modest about her accomplishment.
“We all had to come out hard and focused,” Livingston said after the game. “I knew me and Jordan [Hefner, freshman middle blocker] had to step up. We’re always pushing each other, and we have to step out of our comfort zones to get the wins we need.”
They’re racking up the wins now.
Livingston came to the Triad from Sun Prairie, Wis., a suburb of Madison. (“We have wonderful cheese curds,” she quipped.)
In the Midwest, volleyball reigns right up there with basketball and football as the sports of choice.
“There’s a huge culture of grassroots, young volleyball players,” High Point head coach Jason Oliver said. “It’s a hotbed for kids 12 to 18 playing volleyball. That’s what they do.”
Livingston started playing volleyball in sixth grade, but also played softball and basketball.
“I started club in eighth grade, and since then, volleyball’s been my No. 1 thing,” Livingston said. “We’re all giants [in my family], and so basketball’s a big thing, so it was kind of a surprise to them. They asked, ‘Are you sure?’ But they’ve been really supportive.”
Livingston definitely impressed physically. With the exception of one teammate, she towers over many of them at 6 feet 2 inches.
But she’s got the chops to back up her size.
At Sun Prairie High School, Livingston garnered first-team all-conference and second-team all-state in her senior season in 2014, honors capped by her addition to the national tournament team the same year.
She could have gone to any number of schools, but she chose HPU.
“It was like the old cliché — as soon as you step on campus, you’re home — and as soon as I talked to the coaches, I knew HPU was the place for me,” Livingston said. “It’s everything I ever dreamed and more.”
She took a moment to laugh at herself.
“I know, I’m such a dork,” she smiled.
She may be a gentle giant, but that charm transforms into ferocity on the volleyball court.
Livingston’s influence with the Panthers that night was undeniable. Her enthusiastic presence pumped up her team; it seemed like, when she would leave the court, the Panthers floundered a bit.
But when she came back, it was like adding one of the Four Elements. Fire might be a good candidate, considering her blazing red hair and ferocious performance.
Her shining moments came in the third set.
High Point had already secured a decent 10-5 lead over the Highlanders by the time Livingston stepped to the line to serve.
She then led the Panthers on a raging tear, beginning with a net-nicking ace.
It was the first of three she’d record during the set; she’d score five by the end of the night.
She fired up the rest of the team, too, not giving the Radford players any chances, letting them fall from their own errors and making efficient kills.
The score stood at 18-5 before the Livingston-led run came to an end off an attack error by High Point.
When the coach subbed Livingston out, Radford scrambled back, but their hopes were short-lived, and the Panthers won the set with seven points of padding.
And to think — this was apparently an off night for Livingston.
“For her, consistency wise, it was a low-hitting night at .250,” Oliver said.
Hitting averages work similarly to the baseball statistic: Kills minus errors divided by attempts.
“Molly averages .450 and records double-digit kills,” Oliver added. “She wasn’t quite on. But that’s the sign of a good player and a good team.”
Surely, the night couldn’t have been won on Livingston’s efforts alone.
Sophomore middle blocker Camryn Freiberg tallied 15 kills, floating from the corners gracefully as a butterfly before smashing the ball with sniper-like accuracy into empty spots in the Radford defense.
And senior libero Annemarie Chin recorded 26 digs, adding to her top-five national average for digs per set.
But the night of Oct. 9 was Livingston’s tour de force.
“She’s earned her playing time,” Oliver said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or a senior; if you execute, you’ll be on the court.”
Livingston will likely spend plenty of time on the court for the next few years.
And she’ll be waiting for her next kill.