A year after she walked away from the sport, Abby Fay is writing a better ending to her volleyball career.
After three seasons at Kansas State, Fay thought she was through with volleyball. Several months later, she realized she wanted to leave the sport on her terms.
Now at Lipscomb, the graduate student leads the Bisons into the NCAA Tournament, where they play 16th seed Texas A&M at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in College Station, Texas.
“I just thought it was going to be one of those things I might regret for the rest of my life — not ending the way I wanted it to,” she said. “I’m just so thankful that I’ve had such a great experience and could end my career on such a good note.”
The Bisons march into their third straight NCAA Tournament on the heels of their third straight Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship. Lipscomb (20-10) never has won a match in three trips to the tournament.
If they knock off the Aggies, the Bisons will play either Dayton or Kentucky on Friday for a trip to the Sweet 16.
Middle Tennessee State also is in the 64-team field. The Blue Raiders are making their sixth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and will play Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Knoxville. Duke and 14th-seeded Tennessee are also in the sub-regional.
MTSU earned an at-large bid after going 21-11 and 14-2 in the Sun Belt Conference.
This will be Fay’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament but first as a significant contributor. She redshirted in 2007 when K-State hosted a sub-regional. She then played for just one point in the Wildcats’ short-lived 2008 trip to Seattle.
As the Bisons’ setter, the 5-foot-8 Fay leads the team with 753 assists, to go along with 217 digs and 110 kills.
“I couldn’t be happier with Abby and the fact that she continues to play at a high level,” coach Brandon Rosenthal said. “More than her play is her leadership.”
Fay enrolled at Lipscomb in January, a month after she graduated from K-State. She landed in Nashville due to connections with former Bisons standouts Alex Kelly, Meghan Hinemeyer and Jake Pease.
She played with all three at the club level back in Kansas City. Last September she was still at K-State but wasn’t on the team so she took a “vacation” to come watch the trio play at Lipscomb.
“I really fell in love with the program, the school and Nashville,” Fay said. “So it was then, after that visit, that I was like, ‘I really miss volleyball.’ ”
Volleyball has always been in her blood. Her mom, Debbie, has won more than 700 matches as high school coach at Park Hill South in Missouri. In fact, Debbie was eight months pregnant with Abby when she led Park Hill South to a state championship.
“She was about to pop out at the state tournament when they won,” said Fay, who noted her father, John, was at her mom’s side as an assistant for that team. “Two weeks later I was born and ever since then I have been raised in a gym.”
Thus, it was a big shock to many who knew Fay when she left the sport all together.
She had played organized volleyball since the fourth grade and said she wasn’t burned out. But when the K-State coaches switched her from setter to defensive specialist, she began to lose interest.
“The passion was dying down, especially with the position change,” she said. “I still loved my teammates and the coaches, too. I didn’t have the love for the game and it was just more work than I wanted to put into it without that passion.”
That fire has rekindled at Lipscomb.
With her good friend Pease on the bench — now as a graduate assistant coach — Fay has found a new home.
“This is probably the best team chemistry of any team I have ever played on,” Fay said. “I just love them to death. We can all say that, honestly, we have each other’s back and trust each other, and it is like a true, true team. That is pretty special.”