WHEELERSBURG — For her four years with Wheelersburg’s varsity volleyball program, she has been a difference-maker.
Or, should that read “difference-Meeker”.
Ryleigh Meeker that is.
Now, after two years as an integral Pirate role player, the senior Meeker is more than making her mark as the Pirates’ primary standout — and leading the improving Pirates to a 14-2 (11-2 Southern Ohio Conference Division II) record, entering Sunday’s Southeast District sectional tournament seeding draw.
Of course, that is this Sunday along the Internet, but last Sunday in-person at Wheelersburg High School, Meeker made it official and announced her collegiate volleyball choice — the University of Rio Grande.
That’s correct, as the middle hitter/middle blocker Meeker joins the RedStorm program of the NAIA and the River States Conference — under the leadership of 14-year head coach and former All-American at Rio Grande Billina Donaldson.
Meeker was flanked at her Sunday signing ceremony by her parents, Brad and Mandy Meeker; Donaldson; Wheelersburg High School’s varsity volleyball coaching staff; her SOVC Club coaches; and several Pirates teammates and friends.
Meeker joins former Pirate teammate Lauren Jolly within the RedStorm program —as another primary Pirate performer, Kaylee Darnell, is a member of Rio Grande’s women’s basketball team.
In choosing Rio Grande, over say Shawnee State University, Meeker —besides the proximity to Wheelersburg —raved about the RedStorm, and adjusting to a college lifestyle.
She will receive full tuition, as announced by Donaldson and stated in her National Letter-of-Intent, beginning with the 2022-23 academic year.
“I really love Rio Grande’s volleyball program and I love the campus. Their team seems very much like a family setting, and that’s what I wanted with a college. I think I’m going to fit in really well there,” said Meeker. “I just love Rio Grande so much that it really wasn’t a hard decision at all. I’m close to home yet so far away to where I can have my own privacy and taste of life by myself. I am very excited, but still very nervous. I’ve never been on my own before, but I think it’s going to be great to learn and be able to do stuff for myself without having my parents there.”
She also beamed about Donaldson, regarded as one of the top players in Rio Grande volleyball history —and who participated 25 years ago in the United States Olympic Trials.
“She (Donaldson) is a great coach and is a great person. I’m going to love playing for her,” said Meeker.
At Wheelersburg, the five-foot nine-inch Meeker has always been a middle hitter/middle blocker —behind two-time all-Ohioan and now Shawnee State’s Kylee Barney.
With the likes of all-SOC II first-teamers Barney, Jolly, Darnell and Emily Boggs before her —and even Alli McQuay and Mallory Bergan in her sophomore season —Meeker’s middle position played key roles still, as she was an all-conference second-team selection as a junior.
Two years ago, that unit advanced to the Division III state tournament for the first time in school history —and almost repeated the march last season, falling in five dramatic sets in the regional semifinals against Tuscarawas Valley.
With the graduation losses of those aforementioned Pirates, Meeker manned the middle again —but became much more of an obvious impact player, as well as an all-around leader.
She and fellow senior Lyndsay Heimbach, also a second-team all-SOC II selection last season, were the only Pirates returning with significant varsity experience.
With Meeker behind the wheel in Wheelersburg, the Pirates lost their opening two matches —but have won all 14 since.
“She has been a big part of our program for four years. She started as a sophomore, was a huge part of our state tournament run. If you go back and watch some of those videos, she had the last kill or the last point in several of those matches, close matches too. Those were exciting moments for us. A lot of memories with Ryleigh,” said Wheelersburg head coach Allen Perry. “She is a great kid. You want an entire team full of Ryleigh Meekers. She has really developed this year as leader, not just always by example, but by becoming more vocal. It’s really cool to see her transition and evolve into that type of player.”
Meeker said the graduated Pirates playing the roles of role models made the learning curve much easier.
“The juniors and seniors on the team my sophomore year were great role models. I knew that if I wanted to be anything like them, I used them to better myself and shape myself into the player I am today. Hopefully, I’m helping the younger girls learn what it is to be a true role model and a good leader,” she said. “It’s been an amazing experience playing here. I would never ask for anything else. The girls are amazing and the coaches are amazing. I’ve made so many memories that will last a lifetime and I will cherish forever.”
Entering the first full week of October, Meeker’s career kills totaled 460 and her blocks 166 —as she has served up 38 aces, dug up 120 balls, and hit for a .393 percentage.
Meeker said Donaldson will likely move her to a starting outside hitter spot, given her undersized height for the middle at the collegiate level.
Both hitting spots, Meeker said, “have you on your toes at all times”.
“You have to be ready to move, and be very focused and know where the ball is going,” she said. “A middle hitter, you block on the right side and outside. An outside hitter, you have to learn how to hit the line, how to hit cross, how to hit different spots. They’re both difficult.”
However, Perry believes any major adjustments for Meeker will be more minor.
“She will probably play more outside hitter because of her height, but I don’t think that will be a bad transition for her. We just needed the big block in the middle from her,” said the coach. “She has just gotten so much stronger. She has always hit the ball really hard, but now she really hits it with authority. She sees the court better now, just matured as a player. She might be short in stature, but she has a long reach. Just really proud of her and the player and person she has become.”
And, the difference-maker —or “difference-Meeker” — she has been.
Meeker said she plans to major in either Education or study to become a speech pathologist.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved