RICHMOND – Richmond-Burton outside hitter Alex Callanan knows her role.
Callanan never expects to lead the Rockets in kills each game, and she is perfectly OK with that. Certainly the go-to hitters typically garner the most attention, both from opponents and in the headlines, but every championship-caliber team needs a Callanan, someone willing to do whatever the team needs to win.
While junior outside hitter Ali Frantti and senior right side hitter Kim Russell spearhead the attack, it’s been a collective team effort that has carried R-B to its first appearance at state in the program’s 40-year history. R-B plays Jacksonville (30-8) in the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
“We all know everyone’s going to try and line up on [Frantti] and block her, but I just try to come out there and do the best that I can, tip once in a while, and hit and try to throw them off,” Callanan said. “I expect every set that Kara [Russell] gives me. Most of the time it will go to Ali, but I just make sure I go up and do my best and make her set worth it.”
Early on in the season, the Rockets (36-4) established Frantti and Kim Russell as the top two attack options with smashing success, combining for 830 kills entering Friday’s state semifinals. It would have been easy for Callanan, a senior, to lose her focus or confidence on the court knowing she would rarely lead R-B in kills, let alone consistently receive sets.
Yet Callanan embraced her role, becoming a dynamic, all-around player who is capable of beating opposing defenses by utilizing a variety of shots. It’s exactly what the Rockets needed to help reach their final destination and check off their preseason goal of reaching state.
“She’s OK with not looking like a dominant player, even though she is a dominant player,” Rockets coach Kaycee Kaywood said. “She’s just a very level-headed kid and understands that her role on the team is just as important even though she might not be getting the amount of sets Ali is.”
Although the opportunities may be limited, Callanan has capitalized on her chances. She’s tallied the third-most kills for R-B with 173, but Callanan’s impact stretches beyond her ability to turn the offense from a two-person show into a three-headed monster. Callanan has been just as effective defensively, recording the second-most digs (291) while also delivering 35 aces, tied for third on the Rockets.
It’s no secret that the key to slowing down the Rockets’ attack is finding a way to stop Frantti. One way to combat Frantti’s effectiveness is the use of triple blocks, though it’s a risky tactic. However, if Jacksonville decides to focus all of its attention on Frantti during Friday’s semifinal match, Callanan said she’s ready to step up.
“I think Alex is probably the smartest player on the team,” Kaywood said. “She realizes she’s never going to be Ali Frantti, and Alex is one of those girls that gets it and understands it doesn’t have to be pretty to score points. She’ll do whatever it takes to get that point.
“She’s also very, very consistent, obviously, in the front row but also on defense. She rarely misses her serves.”