Girls volleyball season at Williston is over, but senior Dylan Fulcher-Melendy’s journey in the sport is about to begin a new chapter.
A senior from Easthampton, Dylan has committed to Williams College to play Division 3 volleyball next year, making her only the third person from Williston to ever play college volleyball. It is a dream come true for her because she at times doubted that she was good enough to play at the college level.
Williston volleyball began in 2004 and is part of the Class B division. There have been two NEPSAC tournament appearances from 2007-2008. Compared to the Midwestern and West coast states, volleyball is not as big in Massachusetts; it is uncommon for prep schools in Massachusetts to send their players off to play college volleyball.
Dylan’s journey began in seventh grade when she quit soccer. “I had been playing soccer since I was five; both my moms coached soccer, my sister [Madison ’18] played soccer, and my brother [Hudson ’23] played soccer,” she said.
However, she decided to quit because she did not enjoy it as much. “I had a bad coach, and it kind of ruined it for me.” She also watched some Williams volleyball games and became “obsessed with it.”
Dylan enjoyed the “fast-paced rhythm” of volleyball, and when she came to Williston, she decided to try out for the JV team. “I didn’t have anything to lose,” she said. “I just wanted to give it a shot and try something else.”
At first, she was terrified because she did not know the rules, but her coaches, Alex Rivenburgh and Annie Schneider encouraged her. She felt welcomed not only did she feel welcomed by the coaches, but also by other upperclassmen who were also very nice.
“Fuka [Iwama] took me under her wing and she was the quietest person, but I always felt like she was there for me,” she said. “She made me feel more comfortable with a bunch of older kids, which made me more comfortable to try out next year for varsity.” [Fuka graduated from Williston in 2018.]
Dylan was able to regain her joy in sports after playing volleyball. “It was the first sport that I switched to that made me love sports again. I had some bad coaching, and I never really felt the joy that my siblings talked about when they were playing.”
She told The Willistonian, “I used to fake stomach aches, migraines, headaches, and pretty much anything to get me out of practice. Volleyball was the first sport that made me want to be there … there’s nowhere else I would rather be.”
Dylan tried out for varsity when she was in eighth grade and made it. She began to feel more confident and gradually became a more prominent player. She said, “I’ve changed a lot as a person. I was very short and scrawny and not sure of anything I was doing. I didn’t really believe in myself at all.”
Dylan realized she needed to step up when she assumed the role as a captain during her junior year. “I was shocked, but other people believed in me and I needed to feel more confident with myself. I felt I had a good role on the team, and I was comfortable with the people,” she said. “I got along with everybody no matter what leadership position I held. I wanted to be a leader and help everyone else.”
Coach Rivenburgh helped her along her way. He was her JV and varsity coach for a total of three years, and “he made me feel like I was capable of holding that position [captainship].”
Dylan knew that playing college sports was always an option, but she didn’t know that she wanted to play volleyball specifically. In fact, she began getting more recognition for another sport: water polo.
In 2019, she was named fourth team All-American as a goalie and an All-Star for the NEPSAC tournament. Everyone thought that she was going to go to college for water polo; Dylan did too.
“This summer I thought that I might play water polo,” she said. “I went to the Junior Olympics [in California] and got All-American. This is probably what was going to happen. Everybody expected me to go to college for water polo. When I started telling people that I was looking for volleyball, they kind of just gave me a look. They either forgot that I played or were like ‘what about water polo?’ which kind of discouraged me a little bit.”
However, her mind was set on Williams, which does not have a girls water polo team. Even though it is a bittersweet decision, Dylan will be able to play club water polo after her volleyball season ends at Williams.
Dylan had water polo offers from Brown University, Pomona College, and offers from Connecticut College, but ultimately, “Williams was the school I wanted to go to.”
Throughout her journey, Dylan had many doubts about being a volleyball player. “I got into communication with the NESCAC school and reaching out to volleyball coaches in the area. I didn’t really think that I was a great volleyball player.”
She added, “I didn’t have that confidence that I [could] play in college even if I wanted to. But people started responding. It was kind of fun and there was a possibility that I could be enough that I can play at that level.”
She has already been on two official visits at Williams and have met most of her future team members. “I love the team; the team is really welcoming. I was worried because of the pressure about immediately feeling a part of it. The team was really great, and the coach was just an empowering female. She was just so cool. I love her and I was able to connect with her.” The Head Coach of Williams’ volleyball team is Christi Kelsey.
In deciding on where to attend college, Dylan brought up the “broken leg scenario,” the idea that if you were to break your leg and couldn’t play anymore, which school would make you the happiest. “That school was Williams for me,” she said.
Even though her six-year volleyball career at Williston has come to an end, Dylan is fully confident about what the team will bring next year.
“I feel like I’m leaving the Williston volleyball team in good hands,” she chuckled. “It’s weird, it hasn’t really sunk in yet because I’m playing volleyball again. I know that the team will be so good and strong next year. I trust everybody because they were like my second family.”
Ken Choo, the Head Coach of the Girls Varsity Volleyball team, feels “happy and humbled” to be a part of Dylan’s journey. Although he only coached for her senior year, he could tell she had lots of potential.
“Dylan is versatile as a player, and positive as a person,” he said. “She is at once one of the top servers, top serve returners, passers, hitters, diggers on the team. Her successes in any of these endeavors is received with joy, and her failures with a rueful smile. Regardless, her response is positive.”
He emphasized how much of an important role she took on the team during his first year as head coach. “Dylan is always up for supporting the team. Any idea, any concern, any time of day, she is there for the team, for making the team better,” he said. “I don’t think that I have a full concept of how much easier she made my first year on the job by being one of our captains.”
Choo credits her for her “willingness to be vulnerable,” as a part of what makes her a great captain. He describes what he believes is her submission to Williston’s literary magazine, Janus, a couple of years ago.
“There was a piece of writing where I thought, ‘Wow, that openness took a lot of guts. Something special just happened.’ I think that aura of vulnerability allows her to connect at a deeper level with her teammates, to gain their trust,” he said.
Katie Borden, a senior from Amherst, has played with Dylan since seventh grade. They started their journey together and ended it together too. She described Dylan as the “most dedicated person” she’ll ever meet.
“In seventh grade, we were in the same advisory and she announced she was doing volleyball but had no one to try out with, and I told her I would. We went to tryouts and every single day she got better and better and I was dumbfounded because she was just working so hard to improve in any way she could,” Katie said.
Not only was Dylan pushing herself on the junior varsity team, she continued to improve on the varsity team. “The past couple years on varsity, I have watched Dylan improve immensely.”
Katie added, “She learned a jump serve in a week, she could set perfectly every time, and honestly she was the person on the team I looked to for guidance when I wanted to fix my setting.”
Katie said that Dylan is an amazing volleyball player, and probably the best volleyball player Williston has seen in a couple of years. Besides her skills she thinks that Dylan’s sportsmanship is what makes her stand out.
She told The Willistonian, “Not only is she a determined player, she is always smiling despite her absolute worst days.”
She continued, “If she has a bad set, she smiles. If she misses her serve, she smiles. If she shanks the ball, she smiles. Dylan’s ability to make any person smile or just add something good to their day is her strongest skill or trait.”
Katie was overjoyed when she heard that Dylan committed to Williams. “When she told me, I started screaming, jumping, and hugging her just because I knew that she had just chosen the right sport and I was just so happy for her,” she said. “I was completely confident that she would do amazing things with whichever sport she chose.”
Praghya Raja ’22, another one of Dylan’s teammates, said that she’s great, nice, compassionate, and cares for the rest of the team. “She’s a team player and never discourages me,” she said.
Mark Conroy, Director of Athletics, said Dylan has been a “tremendous contributor” for the past five years with her consistent play and her positive spirit.
He was thrilled for her when she committed to Williams. He said, “In addition to being one of the top small colleges in the country, it also has one of the top NCAA Division III athletic programs in the country.”
Conroy continued, “It is a tremendous opportunity for Dylan. Williams is very lucky to get Dylan.”
This story originally ran in The Willistonian.