2017 Volleyball Player of the Year: Foulks delivered on high expectations for Wildcats

Warren County junior Kaley Foulks, who led the area with 403 kills this past season, is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2017 Volleyball Player of the Year. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Kaley Foulks sensed there were high expectations placed upon her as she prepared to start her junior season with Warren County High School’s volleyball team this past fall.

As a sophomore in 2016 she emerged as the focal point of the Wildcats’ offensive attack, smashing 221 kills over 25 matches while garnering first-team recognition on the All-Bull Run District and All-Conference 28 volleyball teams. Entering the 2017 season, Foulks’ skill on the court was no longer a secret. Opposing teams, Foulks knew, were aware that the Wildcats’ offense would, first and foremost, run through the junior power hitter, just as her own team knew it would be at its peak efficiency when feeding Foulks the ball.

Foulks didn’t shrink from those expectations. In fact it was quite the contrary, as Foulks said recently that playing under such expectations “fires me up.”

“Everyone’s expecting to me to be our power hitter and I definitely think that raises my game,” she said a couple weeks after her junior season came to a close. “I’m not just looking for kill points. I’m not just looking to be the best hitter out there. I’m looking to benefit our team. I wanna help the team succeed and I think definitely between last year and this year, I was more concerned about my kill numbers last year because I was a leader but I wasn’t an upperclassman. I wasn’t the leader on the team, and this year I felt like I was the leader, so I was worried more about the team over myself.”

As it turned out, the Wildcats made the state tournament for the first time in program history and finished as the VHSL Class 3 state runner-up following a three-set loss to Lord Botetour. And Foulks’ dedication to providing the statistical output and leadership she felt she owed to her teammates – and the team’s seniors, in particular – this past season in turn powered her to one of the most productive seasons by a Warren County volleyball player in the program’s history.

Her 403 kills in 2017 rank among the school’s best single-season marks (Autumn Troxell smashed 432 as a senior in 2014), she led the Wildcats with 47 aces and was among the team’s leaders in digs.

Those marks earned her the title of Region 3B Player of the Year and a spot on the VHSL Class 3 all-state team as a first-team selection, and she’s also The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Volleyball Player of the Year for the second straight season.

“I think she just took the step where she was the upperclassman and she realizes this is her team,” Robinson said of the biggest change she saw in Foulks between her sophomore and junior seasons. “She’s one of the big players here as far as production goes and realizes it’s her team and she was taking control of it this year.”

Foulks’ tremendous leap in total kills from a year ago wasn’t the result of an extended playoff run that saw Warren County playing on the season’s final day on Nov. 18. The Wildcats played only one more match in 2017 than they did in 2016, meaning Foulks was simply twice as productive as a junior this fall.

After averaging 8.8 kills per match last year, Foulks averaged 15.5 per match this past fall and nearly five kills per set this past fall. And although Foulks said she wasn’t as consistent in the postseason and she’d like to be, she tallied 93 kills in six playoff matches and averaged 5.8 kills per set.

Part of her success can be attributed to the Wildcats’ balance. Senior Britney Carter and junior Lauren Fox each finished with over 150 kills in 2017, and Foulks said in addition to providing Warren County with multiple weapons to combat opposing defenses, watching either of those two slam a ball onto the hardwood served to energize her own motivation to follow suit on the next play.

But most important to Foulks’ individual success, she said, was her rapport with junior setter Morgan Coons, who finished with 818 assists this past season. Foulks said she and Coons began working together on the court three months in advance of the start of the 2017 season to improve their on-court chemistry, and she added that Coons was the “reason for all my kills.”

“We ran a bunch of different stuff this year, like for some teams that would put the block up on me I would tell Morgan to set me faster. We could change that right in the middle of the play and I think that was truly an improvement over last year,” Foulks said. “We would get over people trying to block me by speeding up the play. Morgan would set me higher, she’d set me closer in. I would run trick plays this year. Morgan would set me in different spots. It was really just, I think the preseason, just her working on setting me all these different types of balls, it wasn’t just one (type of pass) so we wouldn’t be predictable.”

Foulks added more of that unpredictability into her own individual game, as well, which helped make her an even more dangerous attacker during her junior season.

“I really just think it was repetition, figuring out what was working and what wasn’t,” said Foulks, who no longer plays club volleyball and instead plays regularly with her Warren County teammates during open gym workouts. “I think this year what really helped me was my variability.

“I can hit line this year. That was Mrs. Robinson’s big thing last year. She told me if I wanted to be a power hitter I needed to learn how to hit line. Line is my shot now. But it’s not just that. I learned how to … tip more accurately this year, hit cross-court. I can just pick where I wanna go depending on where the defense is.”

Foulks will be asked to do even more as a senior in 2018, and even with the 2017 season barely in the rearview mirror she talked of better maintaining her consistency through a full season, improving her serve receive and becoming a better leader.

It’s the latter that Robinson mentioned first when asked how she envisions Foulks’ role changing next season.

“She’ll just have to take more control of the team once they get on the court, and just be a good leader, a positive leader,” Robinson said. “She’s a smart one out on the court. She can figure out where to put it, I’ve never doubted that. She knows what she needs to do. She knows when to tip it over top. She knows when to go down the line. She knows when to go to the four. She sees it, she recognizes and she also helps her teammates.

“As far as her skills go, she’s just gonna continue. She’s still gonna continue to hit hard. There’s no doubt in my mind there. But I think the biggest thing will be her leadership next year.”