MISSOULA — When Ronan middle blocker Madeline McCrea signs with the University of Providence next Wednesday afternoon, it will be the realization of a dream.
McCrea has been a huge part of a resurgent Maiden program that made the state tournament for the first time in 18 years this fall. The senior leaves behind a strong legacy, and she is the first Ronan player in quite some time to sign with a college volleyball program.
It is an impressive achievement, and she'll be joining a team that has advanced to the NAIA national tournament each of the past two years.
"It's so exciting," said McCrea, who was an all-state selection. "It's just all the hard work paying off finally and being able to play at the next level, I'm very much looking forward to it."
Ronan went 12-12 last season and entered the Class A state tournament as the fourth seed from the West. It was not an easy road to the state berth, and the Maidens actually clinched the final Western A divisional berth by beating Libby in a loser-out play-in game.
Ronan then shocked 2019 state champ Corvallis in straight sets before falling to Polson in the Western A Divisional semifinals. Ronan, however, rebounded and topped Frenchtown in four sets to advance to the state tournament.
The Maidens lost to eventual state champion Billings Central in the first round of the Class A tournament but beat Polson in a loser-out game to advance to the second day. State runner-up Columbia Falls knocked Ronan out of the tournament in Friday afternoon action.
"I think, this year, we were able to actually bond, and we played together, and we did a lot of stuff together outside of volleyball, which really helped us all feel like a team," McCrea said. "We've maybe kind of lacked that in the past and it was really nice to have. We also all worked very hard."
The Ronan star said her mother was one of her biggest inspirations and expressed appreciation for how she constantly was there for her. McCrea plays on club teams as well, and her mother always did whatever she could to try and be in attendance for her games.
That meant a lot to McCrea, who also pointed to longtime Ronan coach Mitchell Wassam as an inspiration. Maiden coach Lacey Phelan was able to get a lot out of her team this year as a new coach, which McCrea was thankful for as well.
"She reminded us pretty much every day about changing the culture of Ronan volleyball," McCrea said of Phelan. "I definitely think she had a big role in that change."
McCrea enjoyed a strong season statistically, too, as she finished with 164 kills on 398 attempts in 70 sets. She was strong at serving, too, with 29 aces and just 16 serving errors.
But McCrea's true talent is blocking, and she was absolutely tremendous in doing so, finishing with 119 blocks — 56 solo and 63 assisted — to lead the state in blocks, according to statistics on MaxPreps.
"On a recruiting visit, they asked me what my goals were for this year, and for me, that was to lead the conference in blocks," McCrea said. "Blocking has definitely been the biggest part of volleyball for me. I really like it.
"They told me not just to go for the conference lead but the state lead."
McCrea will have plenty of opportunities in the future to see just how far she can go in the NAIA ranks. She is certainly looking forward to the chance.
"I just want to be an inspiration to my other teammates," McCrea said. "I know they have the capabilities to do the same thing that I'm doing, and I want to show them that it is possible because we're a young and kind of inexperienced program."