Junior outside hitter Molly Toon has an advantage over her teammates on the Michigan volleyball team.
No, it’s not her height, wingspan, vertical jump or strength. It isn’t her experience as a starter or her postseason play, either.
It’s her family — a lineage filled with athletic talent that ranges from an NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver to a high school varsity volleyball standout.
Toon has already recorded more kills, blocks and digs than she did last season, and while she has dedicated more time in the weight room, the Middleton, Wisc. native can use her background to improve her season outside of the gym.
Molly is one of Al Toon’s four children. A first-round selection by the New York Jets in 1985 out of the University of Wisconsin, Al was selected to the Pro Bowl three times and was named the AFC Player of the Year in 1986 during his seven year career.
Her brother, Nick, was selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints after starting at wide receiver for the Badgers in 2010 and 2011. He currently is on the Saints injured reserve list.
“He’s a really smart guy, so any advice I need I can get from him,” Toon said of her father. “If I don’t understand, I can go to my brother. I have a lot of resources and I’m lucky I have those to utilize.”
Molly’s sister Kirby also played for the Wisconsin volleyball team from 2009 to 2011l. Michigan was upset by the Badgers in both games in 2011, though Molly ultimately recorded more kills.
Even her younger sister, Sydney, currently a senior at Middleton High School, is finishing the line of volleyball standouts in the family.
“I think Molly has a very good athletic mentality,” said Michigan coach Mark Rosen. “Her confidence isn’t tied to the last repetition or last success or failure. She feels like she’s good on any day. I think a lot of that comes from her family and being around high-level athletes.”
With her four children heavily involved in athletics now, Molly’s mother, Jane, has worked for several years to plan out a schedule to attend as many games as possible. At the beginning of every fall season, Jane creates a chart and color codes it to help designate each child’s events.
In fact, the organization becomes so hectic she hires a planner to help put everything together.
“Fall is a crazy time for them,” Toon said of her parents. “They’re always running around with games on their phones.”
Though her parents make an effort to see as many games as possible, attending a school seven hours away from home means she doesn’t always have the physical presence of her parents to support her.
But technology has provided a solution to that.
“It’s kind of funny because they’d be at Nick’s game, and they’ll be tracking my game and Kirby’s on their phones,” Molly said. “I’ll always get texts afterwards saying, ‘Looked like you had a great game!’ They’re always connected, which is really nice.”
The decision to attend Michigan over Wisconsin seems peculiar at first, but Molly explains that doing the unexpected has become expected.
“I’ve always been the oddball out,” Toon said. “My parents said they always knew I was going to be the one to leave. I looked at Wisconsin, but I came to Michigan and it was a perfect fit for me. I haven’t second guessed my choice since I’ve been here.”
That decision is good for Rosen and the Wolverines, as her 130 kills and 37 blocks are third on the team in a lineup that has continuously shifted.
“She understands a lot of things on how to be mentally steady,” Rosen said. “Her confidence doesn’t move up and down a lot. She’s not cocky, arrogant or over-the-top.”
Michigan travels to Madison to face the Badgers on Oct. 7, which is fortunate for her family. This time they won’t have to watch their phones.