WATERTOWN – Whatever time of the year it may be, you can bet that Watertown-Mayer junior Paige Thibault is around the game of volleyball. After cracking the varsity team as an eighth-grader, Thibault has emerged as not only one of the top players in the area, but also the state.
Driven by the love of the game and hard work, Thibault has always had a goal of playing at the collegiate level. Her hard work and dedication throughout her impressive career has paid off, as she recently committed to play Division I volleyball at the University of Virginia.
“It feels awesome,” Thibault said about making her college decision. “There’s all these people congratulating me. A lot of people don’t know all the hard work that athletes put in that no one sees. To finally get recognized for it, and have it pay off, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Thibault has helped the Royals reach back-to-back state tournaments over the past two seasons, but her work doesn’t stop there. Throughout the entire offseason, Thibault is working on her game and skillset, which is a big reason she will be able to continue her volleyball career after high school at the Division I level.
“It’s just exciting because I know how much she works in the offseason,” W-M coach Andrea Raser said. “She plays volleyball year-round. This is something that she’s wanted to do since I’ve known her. For her to actually get to do that, and have that come true because she worked hard for it, it’s awesome.”
Thibault certainly puts the time and effort into her craft. Whether in the weight room or on the court, Thibault strives to get better every day, not only for her, but for her team, as well.
“She works hard,” Raser said. “She’s in the weight room anytime. She doesn’t just do volleyball. She does everything else to be a better teammate. Not just because she wants great things, but she wants her team to do great things. She’s willing to put herself out there to make her team better.”
Thibault and Raser have been together since Thibault joined the varsity her eighth grade year. While she’s not only grown as a player over the past three seasons, Raser has also seen her mature more and more while becoming a go-to player and leader for the W-M volleyball program.
“Especially around here, part of our culture is that we look to leadership a lot,” Raser said. “She’s a leader on the court, but she’s also a huge leader off the court, as well. The girls can go to her if they have questions. They look up to her. Not just as a volleyball player, but as a person and a teammate, too.”
With three seasons of varsity experience already under her belt, Thibault is excited to have her future decided. While the idea of being recruited can be exciting, there’s a feeling of relief for Thibault after making her decision.
“It’s a big relief,” Thibault said. “I’ve been working through this process for a few years now. It’s just a weight off my shoulders knowing that I’ve committed. I don’t have to worry anymore about talking to more schools. It’s just kind of stressful.”
Thibault had her mindset on making a decision on a college sooner rather than later. With her decision made, that frees her up to put all her focus on her high school season as the Royals are once again a top team in Class AA.
“Now, I can get more focused on my school seasons,” Thibault said. “I just won’t have the stress of everything weighing down on me all the time. I’ll be able to put 100 percent of my focus on the high school season.”
While Thibault has made her decision, there were some other choices that were appealing to her. Several other Division I schools out of state were recruiting her, but Virginia was simply the perfect fit for her.
“There were a few more out-of-state schools that I was looking at, like Loyola in Chicago and Stoneybrook in New York,” Thibault said. “It’s always heartbreaking to say no to other schools, but Virginia was just the perfect school for me. It was the perfect fit. Everything worked out well.”
While taking part in a camp, Thibault got to truly experience the University of Virginia. At the end of the day, it checked off everything Thibault wanted in a school, and the decision became clear.
“I love the coaches and the players,” Thibault said. “I got to meet them at a camp. The campus is beautiful. There’s lots of students there, and I kind of wanted that big college vibe that everyone wants to go to. It’s just what I was looking for.”
Another aspect that drew Thibault in is the idea of playing at Memorial Gym, which opened back in 1924. That makes Memorial one of the oldest gyms in the country.
“The gym was super cool,” Thibault said. “It’s actually one of the oldest gyms in the country. I get to play in the oldest gym, so that’s just super cool. That’s another piece of Virginia that I liked.”
With her decision made, Thibault now turns the page to her junior season. After the Royals lost several key seniors from last year’s team, Thibault will not only be a go-to hitter at the net this season for W-M, but will also need to be the leader on and off the floor. While that role might be new to Thibault, her coach has no worries that she’ll be able to handle it.
“She’s going to step into that role naturally,” Raser said. “The best thing about her is her consistency. She’s consistent in what she says, what she does, and how she plays. I think her leadership and consistency is going to be a huge thing for us this year.”
It may be a new role for Thibault this season, but she believes she is ready for it, too. After Janessa Berrios went down with an ACL injury last season, Thibault became a leader and go-to player for the Royals down the stretch. This year, she’ll begin the season as that go-to player and leader.
“It’s going to be awesome to take over the leadership role,” Thibault said. “I think I’m a good fit for that. We have a great team this year with great personality on the team. Even with our seniors gone from last year, I think we’re going to be very successful this year.”
Thibault’s mindset coming into this season is very clear. With new players coming in and stepping up, she knows she needs to do whatever she can to help the Royals make another run to the state tournament this season.
“I’m just working on being a good leader for my team this year,’ she said. “That’s my main focus. There’s the volleyball stuff too, but I’m focused on leading my team this year. I know that they’re going to need that from me.”
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