‘Inside UVA’: The Life of a Student-Athlete Takes Discipline
Audio: ‘Inside UVA’: The Life of a Student-Athlete Takes Discipline(22:41)
This week, President Jim Ryan hosts student-athlete Madison Morey to learn how she balances her life as a Division I volleyball player and a media studies major.
Jim Ryan, president of the University of Virginia: Who are your favorite teams?
Madison Morey, volleyball student-athlete: I like the Green Bay Packers
Ryan: They’re so close to Georgia?
Morey: My mom is from Wisconsin.
Morey: And for baseball, obviously the Braves.
Ryan: Oh geez. Okay. I won’t comment on that.
Hi, everyone. I’m Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia, and I’d like to welcome all of you to another episode of “Inside UVA.”
This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.
I’m joined today by Madison Morey, a rising fourth-year student captain of the UVA women’s volleyball team. In addition to being a superb athlete, Madison dedicates much of her time to media studies, which is her major. We’re lucky that Madison decided to join the UVA community from her hometown of Marietta, Georgia. I look forward to hearing more about your story, Madison, and thank you very much for being here.
Morey: Thank you for having me.
Ryan: So when did your athletic career begin? And why volleyball?
Morey: So my athletic career began when I was at a very young age. I became a dancer when I was 2 years old –
Ryan: Two years old?
Morey: Yes, I started ballet taking ballet classes when I was 2 years old. And then once I got older, I started trying other sports, like soccer. And then I didn’t really like that sport that much. I tried out softball, and I was just found playing in the dirt.
So my mom said “no” to softball, and then they started me in these volleyball camps when I was in elementary school, through my high school program, and I started falling in love with the sport and it was so fun and so free. And then when I turned 12, I made a decision to stop dancing and start playing volleyball.
Ryan: What do you like about it?
Morey: I just love that, you know, you can work so hard. And I feel so free when I play the sport. I feel like I can just fly on the ground and you know, dive for balls and run after balls. And it’s just such a free sport. And I also love how I can work with teammates and it’s more of a team sport as well that we can build off of one another and continue to get better together and you know, create awesome friendships that will last a lifetime.
Ryan: And you play the position that’s called the libero.
Ryan: So, I know what that is because my son, one of my sons, played volleyball in high school, and he –
Morey: Oh, awesome.
Ryan: Yeah, I loved watching the matches. But for those who don’t know about that position, can you describe it?
Morey: The libero position is a defensive position, which means we’re basically some of the smallest on the team.
Ryan: I wasn’t going to say that.
Morey: So we are not seen to be, you know, up at the net, hitting the balls and blocking any of the balls. But we are the ones who tend to have the best ball control on the team. So we are one of our best passers, we work on digging the balls that are hit at us. We just basically tried to keep the ball alive for our team and set up a great first contact so our setters and hitters can do the work together.
Ryan: And I understand your high school team was phenomenal. You won the state championship all four years. Is that right?
Morey: Yes, we did.
Ryan: Did it get old? How did you keep up your motivation?
Morey: It was actually so fun. You know, being on such a talented team with girls who were older than me, and, you know, they were going awesome places, they are going to some Big Ten schools for volleyball. And I was able to form strong relationships and be able to continue building our program.
And in our high school, our high school team did a lot of these programs where we would just, you know, inspire young girls who are also in the program from elementary school to middle school. We would inspire them and show them that they’re part of a great program. And we are continuing to build this program to be one of the best high school teams in all of the United States. So that was our motivation. We always saw and went to the little girls’ games, and they always came to ours. And it was just so exciting to be able to continue to grow as a team and grow our program.
Ryan: And I understand you became captain when you were just a sophomore. So how did that happen? I mean, you must have had some great players, given that you kept winning the state championships, who were older than you.
Morey: I guess I just worked hard. Do you know, I knew my high school coach from when I was in fifth grade. That’s when I first met her and she became a big part of my life and my coach grew me into the person to who I was today, and she taught me knew what it was like to, you know, go into a gym and work hard and accept what’s going to be thrown at you and find ways to persevere through it.
And she also taught me how to have a loud voice in the gym. Communication was a big part of her program, and what she wanted us to do and some of the standards and her programs. So with having such a loud communicator on the team, you’re going to earn respect by having a loud voice in the gym and continuing to lead by example. And so that’s what I think I’d built over my first year as a freshman, and then coming in as a sophomore after having a great year. I just kept working on my communication, my relationship skills, all of that. And I think that’s what led me to getting a captain.
Ryan: So let’s talk about UVA. How did you decide on UVA?
Morey: Yes, so UVA was actually my last college visit.
Ryan: No kidding.
Morey: Yeah, I had my heart set on another school. Then my parents – or, UVA reached out to me, the coaches did. And they said, “we’d love for you to come up for a visit.” And I told my mom, I said, “Mom, I already have my heart set. Like, I don’t need to go to UVA.” And she and my dad were saying, “No, the academics, everything there is great!”
Ryan: Good for your parents.
Morey: Exactly. So I was like, “OK, I’ll give it a try.”
So we went up, and I stepped on Grounds and immediately fell in love with this place. It was just the community, the environment, everything about UVA overall, was just so amazing. And everyone was so welcoming. And it just felt like such a strong community. And I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
Ryan: So you dropped the other school and decided to come here?
Morey: I did.
Ryan: And the rest is history.
Ryan: So tell me about the life of a student-athlete at UVA.
Morey: So the life of a student-athlete, I usually wake up around 6 a.m., I have lift –
Ryan: Just like all the other students, right?
Morey: Exactly. But yeah, I’m up at 6, I have lift from usually 6:45 to 7:45. And then I have my classes after that. So I’ll grab breakfast, and then head to my classes, get all my work done for the day and start getting ahead and planning for my homework that I’m going to complete after practice. And then I usually get to the gym around 1:30, 2 p.m. And I’m in the gym from 2:30. We start practice and individual meetings and all of that. And then we go until around 6.
Morey: And then after that, I head over to JPJ and get some nice dinner.
Ryan: Great dining room there.
Morey: The great dining room. They make amazing food for all the athletes here. And so I go over there, have some dinner, and then I usually head back to my house and do my work for the night. And then I get up the next day and repeat it.
Ryan: Wow. So how do you manage to keep that schedule? You must be incredibly disciplined.
Morey: Very. Discipline has always been a big part of my life. And I think that, you know, handling academics and sports, it started for me at a young age when I started playing club volleyball, because we would be traveling every weekend, and so I would be missing classes and would be missing assignments and have to make them up. And so I think that learning from those experiences got me ready to college, because I knew that I was going to be missing classes for games, missing assignments, all of that.
But I think I have worked a lot on my time management. So I think with being able to prioritize the time and get myself, you know, ready for the next day and prepare ahead of time that has allowed me to continue to work through the busy schedule.
Ryan: Right. And do you think that will be helpful to you once you graduate?
Morey: Oh, for sure.
Ryan: And will you continue to play volleyball?
Morey: I still haven’t decided this is my last year. So I do have one more year of eligibility, because I came in COVID as a freshman. Yeah. So I have one more year. I’m deciding if I will take it and do a master’s program somewhere. But I’m not so sure yet.
Ryan: Yeah. So you’re a media studies major. Can you tell me why and what interests you in that topic?
Morey: So growing up, I have always, always been a big sports watcher.
Ryan: What are your favorite sports aside from volleyball?
Morey: I love to watch football.
Ryan: Me, too.
Morey: Football’s my favorite, and baseball. My brother played baseball, so I went to all of his games growing up.
Ryan: Who are your favorite teams?
Morey: I like the Green Bay Packers.
Ryan: Really? Because they’re so close to Georgia?
Morey: My mom is from Wisconsin, so she has always been a Green Bay Packers fan. And I like the Green Bay Packers with her. And then my dad is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. And so my brother just kind of is into fantasy football. So he doesn’t have any team. But yeah, so I like the Green Bay Packers and for baseball, obviously, the Braves.
Ryan: Oh, geez. OK. I won’t comment on that.
So you are a captain of the team. How does someone become captain at UVA on the volleyball team?
Morey: So for our team, we have votes at the end of the year, every year after a season. And we like to, you know, write down people who we think are deserving of a position and how hard they work and kind of get to know them, you know, for who they are and how they show their leadership.
And so I remember going into my sophomore season, I was sitting in the room with my coaches. And she told me, she goes, “Oh, you were voted for summer captain.” And I was saying, “Oh my gosh, oh, wait, you’re crazy.” And she said, “No, we’re being serious.”
And so that, how I found out and I think that with my leading by example, I think that that’s helped me, you know, lead this team into what we are building here at UVA, and all of that.
Ryan: So you said “summer captain.” So are you just captain for the summer? And then there’s another vote, or how does it work?
Morey: We usually do a vote at the end of our spring season in the fall. And we’re then going into summer since we are here training in the summer. OK, we have summer captains. And then they usually are also our captains for the fall season.
Ryan: Oh, I see. OK. Oh, I want to go back to media studies, because we got sidelined on your poor choices of baseball teams. So you are a huge sports watcher. So connect that to media studies.
Morey: Yes. So growing up being a big sports watcher, I always watched Sunday football. OK. And while watching, we always watched Erin Andrews and I was saying to my dad and said, “Dad, I want to do that.” Oh, no. And so yeah, so she, I mean, inspired me, she’s also great at what she does, and I loved watching her on TV. And so I knew that going into school, I wanted to do something with sports after because they’ve always just been such a big part of my life. And I thought it would be so cool, being able to do, you know, sports anchoring and covering and traveling with teams and covering games; I think that would be just such an amazing opportunity to have. And so that’s why I chose media studies. And I’m hoping to continue to pursue that.
Ryan: And how do you break into that line of work? Do you know?
Morey: I have to do a lot of connecting, so I have amazing people around me at UVA who have helped me find connections. And as a student-athlete, I don’t have much time to get internships because I’m here training. So I just kind of set up Zooms. And I get to know people who are in the career, ask them questions about it, you know, get to know what their day-to-day life is. And then once I’m out of school, I’m trying to get an internship for next spring when I’m done with volleyball. And I’m just gonna, you know, continue to build and see if this is what I want to do, and explore it more once I’m out of school.
Ryan: So you mentioned the issue of time, and we talked about this earlier. And obviously, schoolwork takes up a lot of time and volleyball takes up a lot of time. Do you feel like you have ample time to do other things aside from school and volleyball?
Morey: I definitely feel like I have a ton of time to do extra things. I think as a student-athlete, it’s always how you approach your time-managing skills. Because I think that if you decide that you can push everything off until after practice is over, then you won’t have much time to be able to do what you want. But here I try to split up my work throughout the days; I try to get ahead on the work so I’m able to have some free time at night or you know, spend some time on the weekend with friends going out to dinner, and being able to get ahead and get ahead on my homework and then really spend time in the gym just focusing on volleyball. It gives me the right amount of time to be able to be involved in other things.
Ryan: And have you been engaged in other extracurricular activities during your time here?
Morey: Yes, I am in a sorority here. I don’t get to do much with the sorority in the fall, but during the spring, I get to do more activities and we do our philanthropy with St. Jude Children’s Hospital and all of that. So I get to be involved with some of those events in the spring.
Ryan: So let’s talk a little bit about failure. If you’re a student-athlete and you’ve participated in athletics; obviously, you are going to experience failure. Either you didn’t play so well on a particular match, or your team didn’t do as well as you’d hoped. How do you cope with failure?
Morey: So I would say that I approach failure with a growth mindset. Because every day you have to approach a practice, or maybe it’s a game you have, and you have to go in with the mindset knowing that you’re going to make mistakes. And with that mindset, it allows you to build failure recovery systems, which is something that I’ve always worked on. With all the resources I have here at UVA, I’ve found ways to “fail fast,” which is how I call it. I call it “fail fast,” and think of a different cue, and then you’re good, reset your mind, take a quick, deep breath, and you’re good.
So it’s obviously a big part of life. It’s also a big part of academics as well. And so it’s all about how you rebound from that one failure you face. That’s how you are defined as a person. So with academics, if you know, you get a bad grade on something, what I like to do is I like to meet with my teachers to know what I’ve done wrong, and how I can fix it the next time. And then I work even harder than next time to fix what I did wrong, or how I can improve my grade.
So I think that as a person, I’ve built a lot of failure recovery systems where I know that I can lean back and trust myself to rebound from that failure, rather than let all of my mistakes and bad grades, you know, just jam up in my head, and then I have nothing to fall back on. So I think that’s a big part of your failure system is how you decide to approach the failure.
Ryan: Right. That’s an incredibly healthy approach. How did you discover it?
Morey: So I had a really rough sophomore season, I was, you know, very in my head; I would let my mistakes build on me. And as a person, I realized that – and as a player, I realized, that’s not what I want to be like. If I want to go places, and I want to grow as a person and as an athlete, then I’m going to need to find ways where I can recover quickly, and be OK with the mistake I just made and learn to accept that I’m going to make mistakes in life. And it’s how I’m going to approach them.
So I set up a bunch of meetings with our psychologists here for our team. And I just worked on building my failure recovery systems. And through volleyball, we talked a lot about process and product. So when I’m in certain drills, where we’re focusing on a new technique, I’m process-based, which means I don’t care about the outcome, I don’t care about if I just got a great dig or not. I focus on, “What’s my process there? Was my technique there?”
And then when I’m in execution drills, and we’re playing 6v6, and I need to execute for my team, that’s when I focus on my product. That’s when I say, “OK, I need to go more tactical-based, I need to stick this pass.” And then I go back, and I’ll watch my film. And I’ll see how I can continue to grow.
Ryan: So switching gears, can you tell me what a “Murph” is, and why you’ve done it at least three times?
Morey: So “the Murph” is a Marine workout. My high school coach was a former Marine, and she always had these crazy – we call them mountains, and they were just mental tests for us to get over and accomplish as a team. And it worked on our team, strengthening our team trust, team loyalty, all of that.
So when I was a freshman in high school, my first mountain was called “the Murph.” And I had no idea what it was. And I found out the morning before, you know, hey, you’re about to run a mile, do 100 burpees, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, and then you’re gonna run another mile.
Ryan: Oh, my gosh.
Morey: And I said, “What? If so, what did I sign up for?” So that was my first Murph that I’ve done and actually finished it in 45 minutes, which I was surprised about, but what we did was we basically just split it up into you would run the mile and then you do 10 sets of 10 burpees. 20 push-ups, 30 squats, and then you’d finish with your mile. And honestly, it was very difficult. My body was feeling it the next day. But once I completed that workout, I just felt so accomplished.
Ryan: I bet you that. So last question. I understand that you have an interesting connection to a certain park in New York City.
Morey: Central Park in New York. That was built by my great-great uncle, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Ryan: That’s incredible.
Morey: Yeah, super cool.
Ryan: And does your family have any memorabilia of him? I mean, there’s a big park that you can go to. Do you feel like a family connection? If you’re there?
Morey: Sure. Sure, um, I do not know if anyone has any memorabilia. But yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Ryan: So Madison, actually, this is the last question. So one thing that you might do next year is continue to play volleyball and get a master’s degree. If you don’t go that route, have you thought about what you’ll do instead?
Morey: So I definitely was thinking about going home first. I’m trying to continue to build connections. Possibly I would like to try and work for the Braves ... sensitive topic.
Ryan: I hear the Yankees might be looking for someone, too.
Morey: New York is actually my second option, Yeah, New York and Connecticut because they have an ESPN center up there. And a dream of mine would be a broadcaster on ESPN. So it’s all about what’s offered to me first and how I continue to build my connections.
Ryan: Well, I wish you the best of luck. But in the meantime, I want to thank you for taking some time to be on this podcast. It was great to speak with you.
Morey: Thank you so much for having me. It was awesome.
Mary Garner McGehee, co-producer: “Inside UVA” is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia.
“Inside UVA” is produced by Kalea Obermeyer, Aaryan Balu, Mary Garner McGehee and Matt Weber. We also want to thank Maria Jones and McGregor McCance. Our music is “Turning to You” from Blue Dot Sessions.
Listen and subscribe to “Inside UVA” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
Get up at 6 a.m.
At 6:45 a.m., lift weights for an hour.
Get breakfast and go to class.
Hit the gym at 2:30 p.m. for 3½ hours of practice and team meetings.
Have dinner and do homework.
Rinse and repeat.
This is Madison Morey’s life as a student-athlete at the University of Virginia.
Morey, a captain of UVA’s volleyball team, plays a mysterious-sounding position called the libero.
“The libero position is a defensive position,” Morey explained to UVA President Jim Ryan as his guest on the podcast “Inside UVA,” a package of stories he shares to show the inner workings of a large public university.
“We’re basically some of the smallest on the team,” she said. “We are the ones who tend to have the best ball control on the team. We just basically try to keep the ball alive for our team and set up a great first contact so our setters and hitters can do the work together.”
Upon hearing Morey’s daily routine, Ryan’s first reaction was, “Wow. You must be incredibly disciplined.”
“Very,” she responded. “Discipline has always been a big part of my life.”
When Morey is not on the volleyball court, the rising fourth-year student is in the classroom earning credits toward her media studies major.
She comes from a sports-loving family who cheered on teams like the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Braves. “Growing up being a big sports watcher, I always watched Sunday football,” she told Ryan. “And while watching, we always watched Erin Andrews and I was saying to my dad … ‘Dad, I want to do that.’” Morey was referring to Fox sports reporter Erin Andrews.
“I thought it would be so cool, being able to do … sports anchoring and covering and traveling with teams and covering games … so that’s why I chose media studies,” she said.
You can learn more about her journey by tuning into this week’s episode of “Inside UVA” and catch up on previous shows, which can be found on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.