Two of Indiana’s premier high school volleyball players are sure to make eye contact through the volleyball net inside the Center Grove gymnasium later this month.
For anywhere from three to five sets, Franklin junior Brooke Phillips and Trojan sophomore Madison Hammill will proceed to push each other to be better — and whatever the outcome of that Aug. 31 showdown, it will no doubt be determined largely by the play of the area’s two dominant setters.
The Grizzly Cubs and Trojans might see each other as many as three times this season. Their paths could connect again at the Johnson County tournament at Edinburgh (Sept. 27 to 28) and in the Class 4A sectional at Martinsville (Oct. 10 to 14).
Center Grove has prevailed in the last eight matches against the Grizzly Cubs, including three last year. Six of the eight have been 3-0 sweeps. Franklin’s most recent success in the series is a two-match sweep of the Trojans during the 2013 season.
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Though the rivalry between the county’s top two programs is a heated one, Hammill and Phillips have built a strong friendship of late.
“We’ve known each other for a while. About three years,” said Hammill, who as a freshman verbally committed to play at the University of Wisconsin. “Brooke is a good friend of mine, so I definitely cheer her on.
“It’s cool competing against someone when you know that person.”
Both Phillips and Hammill are personable, outgoing and excellent students. Phillips holds down a 3.8 grade-point average, while Hammill is at 4.6.
And though they share a passion for volleyball and the innate gift of making those players around them better, Phillips and Hammill are actually contrasts in many ways.
The 5-foot-8 Phillips, who is right-handed, plays volleyball left-handed. Hammill, who sets, serves, attacks and digs right-handed, has already passed the 6-foot plateau, with 6-1 a distinct possibility even before the season is over.
“Brooke is a more offensive-minded player who contributes to her team in so many ways, and MJ (Hammill) is a very, very good setter,” Center Grove coach Maggie Harbison said.
“MJ grew up watching her sister (Taylor) being a setter and is playing at a really high level. I can’t wait to see her reach her potential and see how she grows.”
Phillips, too, verbally committed to play Division I volleyball while still an underclassman. In April, she announced she would attend Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, in the fall of 2019.
Phillips writes with her right hand, and, in her words, can’t shoot a basketball or throw a ball left-handed to save her life.
But, oh, how she can play volleyball as a southpaw — a leftover from being coached by her maternal grandfather, Gene Hood, while learning the sport as a 5-year-old.
“Brooke’s got a beautiful left-handed swing at the net,” Hammill said. “She’s just a great setter.”
Phillips returns the compliment, saying she appreciates the gentle and seemingly effortless contact Hammill makes with the ball before quickly releasing it skyward for a teammate to spike.
The pleasantries will be temporarily put aside when the two lead their teams up against one another in what figures to be another heated matchup (or two or three).
Hammill had totals of 106 assists and 27 digs against the Cubs in her debut varsity season. In those same three matches, Phillips finished with totals of 25 digs and 21 kills.
“Honestly, they’re both super aggressive, very intelligent and great leaders,” Franklin coach Roxanne Chapman said. “The only thing I would say is different is the left-hand, right-hand thing.
“Brooke was third on our team last year in kills. It’s a huge advantage. It’s hard on a team defensive-wise. It throws them off.”
Hammill has shown signs of similar aggressiveness early on this season, racking up double-digit kills in each of the Trojans’ first two matches — victories over New Castle and Avon.
Though only one will be on the winning side in 10 days, the friendship between the two setters promises to endure.
“It’s fun to have that person to compete against, and MJ is one of my best friends,” Phillips said. “I look forward to those matches. It excites me.”
BY THE NUMBERS
A statistical look at the 2016 seasons of setters Brooke Phillips and Madison Hammill:
Note: Phillips played in 69 sets, Hammill in 108.