Maddy Maahs is too short to be an elite setter.
Years ago, volleyball coaches and instructors believed that to be the case. At 5-foot-6, the Western Dubuque senior at one time wasn’t seen as having enough height to become a high-end passer in the front row of a 5-1 offense.
In hindsight, that viewpoint seems pretty silly, doesn’t it?
“Knowing I’m shorter than other setters, it was always about just putting your head down and getting to work,” Maahs said. “You can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Just getting to work was a big part of me becoming the setter than I am today.”
Maahs has redefined the expectations of what it takes to become an elite setter. Through three years as a varsity starter for the Bobcats, the 2021 Telegraph Herald All-Area Volleyball Player of the Year racked up a program record 2,984 assists and capped it with a nearly flawless performance in offensive execution at the Class 4A state tournament, keying the Bobcats to their first state championship and being named the 4A state all-tournament team captain.
“Some coaches have their own theories, that you have to be a tall setter to play front row,” Maahs said. “Some people told me I was too short. But my coaches, they always told me I could do it, so I did.”
Maahs was at her best this season, running the offense with precision passes and working the ball around to her all-state caliber hitters in Meredith Bahl, Maddie Harris and Libby Lansing.
“I think she is the pure definition of hard work pays off,” WD coach Megan Scherrman said. “She is one of the hardest working volleyball players I’ve ever had. She puts in the work on the court and off the court, and it’s nice to see her success and how it’s paid off for her.”
Scherrman and assistant coach Libby Gansen saw something in Maahs from the start, and they always believed she could execute in their offense, regardless of height.
“We’ve heard that she was too short a lot,” Scherrman said. “Opponents, college coaches, and more. Someone like her, she was determined to not let height define her. We’ve always challenged her, knowing teams will try to hit over her, and make them prove it. That was all her hard work. She may not be 6-feet tall, but it’s what she brought to the court that’s so much more than her height. That didn’t bother us one bit.”
MAKING A PACT
As freshmen, Maahs, Bahl and Harris saw their season come to an end in regionals at the hands of Dubuque Wahlert. The three classmates got together after that loss and made a pact.
“After we lost that match at Wahlert, Maddie, Meredith and I all sat down and said that we want to win a state championship one day,” Maahs said. “We didn’t think we really had a chance yet as sophomores, and we went in with the mindset that we just wanted to get better. Our success that season showed that we really didn’t focus on anything too complicated, we were just athletes that wanted to get in the gym and get better.”
The Bobcats were on the brink that season, falling to top-seeded Sergeant Bluff-Luton in the state championship match. After claiming a state runner-up trophy, it appeared the program was on track for its first championship. However, a loss in the semifinals last fall to eventual champ Cedar Rapids Xavier made the drive for a title that much more urgent entering their senior campaigns.
“We all realized that we had the capability of going back to state,” Maahs said. “Coming up short, it was tough for a lot of us. Coming back as juniors, and not even getting back in the same spot as the year before, it pushed us to work a little harder to go out and get it.”
Maahs and Bahl are best friends off the court, and it definitely helps with their chemistry on it.
“Our friendship started in basketball, playing together years ago,” Bahl said. “Then, when we both got on varsity in volleyball, the rest is history. We’ve been best friends ever since. It really helps with our connection on the court, and we can tell each other how it is because we know that we’re best friends and want the best for each other.”
The entire WD lineup pretty much played like a single unit of best friends this fall, and much of that can be attributed to Maahs’ superb handle of the offense.
“Maddy Maahs gives us perfect sets,” Harris said after the state championship match. “How can we not hit well? She just places it perfectly.”
All season, the Bobcats were coming for that state championship trophy to close out a three-year long journey for the seniors, but one that was much longer for the program as a whole. WD was ranked No. 1 for much of the season, and closed with a 34-3 overall record behind 27 straight wins on its way to the crown.
“From the start of the season, we weren’t going to focus on the past,” Maahs said. “It really showed. It’s a new season, it’s a new team with new aspects of the game. Once we became No. 1 ranked, coach always told us that pressure is privilege. We worked to have this pressure, and now we’ve got more work to do.”
The Bobcats would absolutely not be denied this time around, sweeping Sioux City Heelan in the quarterfinals at Alliant Energy PowerHouse in Cedar Rapids. WD then dropped its only set of the tournament to Marion, 3-1, in the semifinals before promptly sweeping Waverly-Shell Rock to collect the program’s first state championship.
“It’s an amazing feeling, and honestly I’m still kind of speechless,” Maahs said. “I knew we could do it, and now that we’re here and we’ve done it, it’s crazy. This whole team was special and put a lot of time in at practice. We were focused, had the same mindset and were all on the same page the whole time. When we needed to play our best, we did.”
Maahs was named the 4A all-tournament team captain, as the Bobcats’ floor general racked up 117 assists, 25 digs and 15 kills over three state matches.
“She’s an amazing setter,” Bahl said. “She runs an awesome, quicker offense. Without her setting, it wouldn’t have been possible for us to win it all. She knows who to get the ball to and just places the ball so well. She really puts us in position to succeed.”
BUILDING A TRADITION, LEAVING A LEGACY
The Bobcats had a motto for this season, and this special group certainly accomplished that.
“It feels amazing to know that we did it, we are state champions,” Maahs said. “We will always be a part of the first team to do it. Our motto this year was ‘building a tradition, leaving a legacy.’ This group of seniors going out, we built a tradition and are leaving a legacy.”
So is Maahs.
Despite concerns about her height, she is closing her career with a program record of 2,984 assists, along with 596 digs, 223 kills, 100 aces and 88 blocks for career averages of 27 assists, 5.4 digs, 2 kills, 0.9 aces and 0.8 blocks per match over 111 career contests.
“I started setting when I was maybe in fourth grade,” Maahs said. “I always wanted to be a hitter, but coach always said you have good hands and should be a setter, so I stuck with it. I’d work with my sisters in the living room on setting and hitting, and getting in the weight room helps you push the ball and plays a big role as a setter.”
Maahs finished her dynamite senior campaign with 1,081 assists, 212 digs, 102 kills, 36 blocks and 29 aces for season averages of 29.2 assists, 5.7 digs, 2.8 kills, 1 block and 0.8 aces per match. Her average of 11.1 assists per set was tops in all of Iowa.
“These last three to four years have meant a lot,” Scherrman said. “Coaching these seniors since they were freshmen, you gain a special bond and it’s indescribable. You look back and think how could something so great be so sad, but that’s because it’s over. We’ve spent the last three years saying we have next year, and now we don’t. Watching Maddy and the other seniors, and all the girls, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we were going to win that state championship this year. I’ve never said that out loud until now.”
Maahs has yet to decide where she will continue playing at the collegiate level, but you can bet there might be some doubters along the way. But with everything she’s learned and experienced as a Bobcat, you can also bet she’s going to shatter expectations.
“Thanks to all the coaches for always believing and pushing us to be our best,” Maahs said. “If it wasn’t for Coach Scherrman and Coach Gansen, this wouldn’t be possible. They spent a lot of time working with us, doing way more than expected, and it shows how much they cared and wanted this, too. It’s been such a special ride.”