CHISHOLM — In the seventh- and eighth-grades, Abby Thompson only stood at 5-feet-7-inches tall.
On a volleyball court, she was only suited for setter, which she didn’t mind, but between her eighth-grade and freshman year, Thompson grew at least six inches.
Things were about to change.
Thompson, who would be moved to the middle, has become one of the area’s premiere middle hitters, and she has been awarded for that as she signed her National Letter of Intent Wednesday to play collegiate volleyball at Moorhead State University.
That didn’t come as a surprise to Bluestreak coach Pam Pioske, who has watched Thompson develop into an outstanding player.
How did she know that?
“By how she played and her age level, how well she handled the ball,” Pioske said. “When she was in the seventh grade, she was going to be a good player even then. That’s when I knew she had some natural talent.
“She has improved for us every year, and this, by far, is her best year. She has a lot more strength. She’s been hitting the weightroom, so she’s hitting with a lot more power this year.”
Thompson had accepted the fact that she was going to be a setter her whole career, but that growth spurt changed all of that.
“My height definitely kept me from being a hitter,” Thompson said. “I probably grew a good six inches there. I liked setting, and I kind of wish I would have kept with it.”
Thompson actually did stick to setting during her freshman season, but she was also hitting.
She didn’t have any problems making the transition from setter to hitter.
“It didn’t pose many problems,” Thompson said. “I’m thankful that I was able to stay athletic and be able to move with my height. That’s an advantage. I never had that awkward stage, which was nice.”
During her sophomore season, that’s when Pioske made the switch for good.
“She transitioned well. She had no problem,” Pioske said. “She was willing to play any position that we needed her to play on the team. There was no issue with the transition.”
There was going to be a learning curve, however.
Thompson wasn’t a polished hitter in either of her sophomore and junior years.
“From last year, she needed to work more on hitting her angles, and she needed to hit the ball harder,” “Pioske said. “She wasn’t hitting quite hard enough last year when she couldn’t get enough kills because a lot of players were getting digs on her.
“She has worked on that. She still hits into the block sometimes. She’s not perfect but no one is perfect. She’s done a lot better hitting around the block, reading the block and making sure she’s hitting the ball harder.”
To do that, Thompson became a student of the game.
“I had to learn the perfect approach, get in the right places, learn the arm swing and I had to get stronger,” Thompson said. “Between my 11th- and 12th-grade, that was my biggest strong transition.
“I hit the weightroom a lot. I played club volleyball in Duluth, and having that experience playing year-round, got me a lot stronger. I talked to my college coach and athletic trainer. I focused on what they focused on in the gym to get used to that. That helped.”
The biggest adjustment Thompson had to make was hitting around the block. That decision has to be made in a split second, while she’s in the air ready to hit the ball.
It takes time to get that skill down.
“It gets difficult at first, but a lot of people want to hit it straight,” Pioske said. “Having to swing in a different direction is hard to learn. You have to focus yourself to hit somewhere other than straight into the block.
“It’s all in the arm swing. You can jump the same way every single time with your body, but it’s when you’re in the air that you decide where you’re going to hit the ball with your arm swing.”
Thompson said there is some strategy involved in the process.
“You need to see where the open spots are, make sure you’re getting that right swing, left or right, hitting your corners and trying to hit around that block,” Thompson said. “That’s a part of being a better hitter, that skill.
“It wasn’t too bad. It’s learned throughout the years.”
Thompson still gets blocked at times, but she’s putting the ball down with more authority.
“It is bad,” Thompson said about being blocked. “I know it happens, so it feels good to block the other team, too. Sometimes, you don’t have an option. That’s how the game goes.”
Now, Thompson will be taking her skills to the Dragons.
“It feels amazing, so good that I finally made the decision,” Thompson said. “I love having my future planned out. I couldn’t have picked a better spot than Moorhead. I love it. It feels like home. I love the team. I love the coach.
“I am so excited.”
Pioske is also excited for Thompson, but she’ll leave a big hole in the Bluestreaks’ lineup next year.
“She means a lot to this team,” Pioske said. “She gets most of our kills in every game. She is our go-to hitter of course. She’s in the top three of the girls in our section. It’s an honor to have her on the team.
“We’re such a small school that you don’t see many athletes at her level.”