The Daily Pennsylvanian sat down with Penn volleyball's Madison Risch — who ranks top five on the team in kills, digs, and service aces — to talk about her love for volleyball, successes and struggles throughout her time as a student-athlete, and what she and the team are looking forward to this season. Here's what the junior outside hitter had to say.
1. Could you please introduce yourself?
Hi, my name is Madison Risch. I'm a junior outside hitter on the Penn women's volleyball team.
2. What inspired you to start playing volleyball?
I started playing volleyball when I was 10. It was just a fun way to make new friends and try something new. It was first a community recreation thing, and then I started playing competitively when I was 12. I was also strangely tall for a ten-year-old. I'm pretty sure I was 5-foot-4 or something, which is insane. So it was either that or basketball, and I did not like basketball.
3. What's your favorite aspect of volleyball?
I love how no two points are exactly the same. Anything can happen, regardless of what the score is, and I just love how there's such a wide range of skills that someone needs to learn in order to play volleyball.
4. Why did you choose Penn volleyball?
The program. The girls in the program are my second family. As soon as I went on my official visit, I knew I wanted to go here just because they were so close. Philadelphia is also so hard to beat, and the Palestra is such a historic and beautiful gym.
5. What has been the most difficult moment in your volleyball career?
Not being able to have a freshman season. All of us were so excited to have a typical freshman experience, and having that ripped away from us because of COVID-19 was really heartbreaking. I feel like my class didn't get very close until we were sophomores because of this.
6. What was your most memorable moment as a volleyball player?
My very first official game in the Palestra. I was a sophomore, and we played Bucknell. The pre-game hype and energy were so amazing, and the Palestra was so fun. The audience was really crazy. We were able to win that game, which was really, really fun.
7. What athletic or non-athletic achievement are you most proud of?
Committing to being in this program and getting a spot. There are only around five spots per class. So it is very competitive. It has been my goal to play at Penn since I was probably 13 or 14, so getting an offer to be a part of this team is a huge accomplishment that I'm really proud of.
8. How do you manage the stress and difficulties that come with being a busy student-athlete?
A lot of Google Calendar and being organized. It's really helpful to be a part of a group of girls that are equally busy. We're always studying in the library together right after practice, using free time to catch up on work, taking advantage of all of the academic resources they provide for athletes here, and being mindful of not procrastinating — especially when we're traveling for away games. We use the time on the bus and any free time to get schoolwork done. Also, taking care of my health is important; I make sure that I’m getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking care of what I need to do.
9. What are people shocked to learn about you?
A fun fact about me is that I have a black belt in Taekwondo. When I say that, a lot of people don't expect it. I feel like it really made me in tune with my body. I got it at around 13 or 14, but it’s one of my biggest accomplishments.
10. What's your best quality?
I’m really energetic, and I have the ability to be happy in high-pressure situations.
11. In what ways have you had to improve or grow as a volleyball player since coming to Penn?
I’ve learned how to embrace competition — not just against other teams, but within our own team. When all of us committed, we were probably some of the best players in our local areas. Now we’re in a program where everyone is really good at what they do, so I’ve learned to fight to earn a spot. Also, I’ve improved at dealing with high-pressure situations and rising to the occasion.
12. What is your family like?
We're super close. I have two older brothers and an amazing mother. They're my biggest volleyball fans. They watch all of our games on ESPN, and I text them before and after. It's so hard because they're so far away in California, but I was able to see them when we did our away tournament, which I'm really grateful for. They’re an amazing part of my life. I miss them so much.
13. What are your favorite pastimes besides volleyball?
Hanging out with my friends. In addition to my teammates, I'm really fortunate to have friends that aren't athletes here at Penn. I love to catch up with them when I'm not playing the sport or not busy with school. I like to go to Center City, try new coffee shops, and explore downtown. Also, catching up on sleep is another pastime.
14. What lessons from volleyball have you taken off the court?
Learning how to have more confidence in myself, that practice is what makes perfection, and that building confidence comes through repetition. That translates to school — I build confidence in my academics by studying and cracking down on my schoolwork when I can. Overall, believing in myself in anything I do has been a big takeaway.
15. What are you looking forward to most this season and year?
I'm excited to see who makes the conference tournament – hopefully, it's us. If we do accomplish that, that will be absolutely phenomenal. It’s kind of a happy/sad moment, but I'm excited for our seniors to experience their senior night, as well. It’s a huge celebration of them and all their achievements here at Penn. I'm just excited for every single home game that we have because I know that there are not too many left.