NAPPANEE — Maddy Payne's volleyball career started in Mishawaka in the third grade at Hums Elementary.
"There was an after school camp type of thing that I signed up for," said Payne. "I wore white marshmallow knee pads, normal tennis shoes and socks up to my knees. That was me."
Due to family reasons, Payne's volleyball future shifted to Elkhart County and NorthWood High School.
"Our family moved when I was in the fifth grade," Payne said. "My dad got a new job. He became the principal at Wakarusa Elementary School."
Payne enjoyed the sport and stayed with it. As a freshman, NorthWood volleyball coach Hilary Laidig saw Payne as a player with potential with plenty of room to grow.
"When she was a freshman she was pretty raw," Laidig said.
"When I came in as a freshman I was probably 5-10 and all arms and legs with little coordination," she said.
Three years later, Payne's grown physically, as she now stands at 6-1, and even more so as a volleyball player.
"When you're that tall of a kid it takes longer to catch up with your body when it comes to your coordination," Laidig said. "This past summer we had a decathlon during two-a-days and she was on top in everything. The girls did sprints and agility runs. It was a big jump for her. It wasn't like that every year for her."
"She hits the ball hard now as a senior."
This year's stats for Payne support that statement. Through September 4th, Payne leads the Panthers in kills (131) and blocks (35) playing middle hitter.
"One thing people don't know about hitting is that a lot of your power doesn't come from your arms, but from your core, which is your abs. That gives you a lot of power on the ball. I'm kind of growing into my body a little bit. I was a little flaily when I was younger.
"I feel that I'm much more aggressive now as a player and that comes from building confidence and getting support from your teammates and coaches."
Laidig sees qualities in Payne that others should emulate.
"She's a great kid and very coachable," the NorthWood coach said. "Maddy has good leadership qualities. Teammates listen to her and she listens to them."
As a three-year starter on the volleyball team, Payne has changed a bit her leadership approach.
"I'm a leader, but I lead the most by example," Payne said. "Speaking out isn't what I'm use to doing. I've been put into that situation more this year of being more of a vocal leader. But I've learned what people do and don't respond to. That's better for me and my team. I still like to lead by example. That's my go-to."
She will carry that attitude into the winter and spring whens he competes on the basketball and track teams. Payne was a first team all-Northern Lakes Conference selection last year for basketball when she averaged 12 points and five rebounds a game. In track, she has competed in the high jump and 400 meters.
When her high school career ends in the spring, Payne will have 11 varsity letters in those sports, along with almost a 4.0 grade-point average.
Unfortunately, it hasn't been easy for Payne to stay 100-percent healthy, as the wear and tear in those sports has taken a bit of a toll on Payne's mobility.
"I've sprained my ankle four or five times now," Payne said. "It's not fun and my left ankle is still swollen. My athletic trainer said the swelling won't go down until I stop playing sports. But it's not super serious. I've played through it. A few times I've had to sit out games and ice and stretch to help get my mobility back."
It's an easy answer for Payne when she's asked what sport is her favorite.
"I feel more relaxed and clear-minded when I play volleyball," she said. "I enjoy the sport more. In volleyball and basketball you have to work as a team, but there's more of a chain of success between teammates in volleyball.
"I'm looking to go to play volleyball in college. I'm still making my decision when it comes to choosing a school. I've narrowed it down between Bethel and Indiana Wesleyan."
Before embarking on her new challenge of attending college and majoring in nursing and playing volleyball, Payne would like to enjoy some state tournament success in volleyball. NorthWood won a conference title two years, but the Panthers haven't won a sectional title during Payne's time at the school.
Payne's play and leadership has helped NorthWood post a 10-3 volleyball record this year, with two of those losses to defending Northern Indiana Conference and regional champion Penn.
"This is the best chemistry we've had as a team since I've been here," Payne said. "This season is going really well. It's hard to believe that it's already my senior year. As a freshman, people said my four years of high school would go fast. I kind of ignored that. Now, oh my word, I don't want to leave. I love my teammates. There's no drama. We get along and have so much fun. It has been awesome."
Laidig is sure happy that Payne's family moved when she was younger.
"She's a young senior," Laidig said. "She turned 17 this past summer. I wish she was just a junior."