The mechanics of success
Rylee Hladky leads Roadrunners volleyball team into NCAA regionals.
As Rylee Hladky stood on the volleyball court just before a tournament match, receiving all three of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference’s highest honors, Metropolitan State University of Denver’s star outside hitter seemed a little surprised by all the attention.
The No. 1 option for the team that has been ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II for most of the season, Hladky has been named the RMAC Player of the Year. And the RMAC Academic Player of the Year. And she received the RMAC’s Summit Award for having the highest grade-point average of any player.
“It was slightly embarrassing,” she said after receiving plaques for each honor at the site of the conference tournament semifinals. “But I appreciate it.”
Modesty notwithstanding, Hladky is not only the RMAC leader in points, points per set and kills, but she’s also in the top five in the league in kills per set, service aces and aces per set. She’s MSU Denver’s leader in service receptions and is second on the team in digs.
“She has a lot of pride in everything she does,” MSU Denver coach Jenny Glenn said. “I don’t know if ‘perfectionist’ is the right word, but she very much wants things in order – whether it’s in school, on the volleyball court or in life. She wants to get the most out of every day, and she gives 100% to do that.”
And then there’s the rest of the story: She carries a 4.0 GPA while majoring in Mechanical Engineering. And as a high schooler in Gillette, Wyoming, she was the state’s Player of the Year – in basketball.
When it came time to pursue athletics in college, Hladky decided she’d had enough of hoops. With limited exposure to club volleyball and the hundreds of annual high-level matches that can offer, Hladky – granted, a volleyball all-stater in high school of course – headed off to join one of Division II’s best volleyball programs at MSU Denver, where she also excels in the classroom.
Originally an Exercise Science major with the idea of pursuing Biomechanical Engineering in graduate school, Hladky quickly switched to Mechanical Engineering.
“It’s very straightforward and black-and-white,” Hladky said of her major. “There are answers. But you can be creative, and I like that.”
Hladky’s aptitude for creativity and learning is evident on the court as well. She has been a six-rotation starter from Day One for the Roadrunners, who are playing in their 21st straight NCAA Division II Tournament. In fact, any conversation with Glenn about Hladky usually involves the description of “learner.”
“She always wants to understand and get better,” Glenn said. “You see that in her schoolwork. You see her reading random books about mechanical engineering that aren’t even for class – she just wants to learn. That’s a key to her success – she’s hungry to learn every time she steps onto the court.”
It’s been a magical season for the Roadrunners, who won 24 straight matches after losing twice in five sets during the season’s opening weekend.
MSU Denver was knocked off its perch as the nation’s No. 1 team after losing a five-set thriller in the RMAC Tournament Championship. But the Roadrunners, now ranked No. 3, are still the hosts and top seeds for the South Central Regional, which will take place Thursday through Sunday at the Auraria Event Center.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Hladky said. “And it’s not necessarily just fun because of the sport itself. It’s because of the people I get to hang out with every day. This is my favorite group of girls. We are very invested, and we’re all super-chill. We’re very competitive, and it makes coming to practice every day that much more entertaining.
“I love them all, and I think that creates more of a desire to want to win. We all want to play for each other because we know each other and we know our stories.”