Created:Wednesday, November 7, 2012 11:55 p.m.CDT
Updated:Thursday, November 8, 2012 12:02 a.m.CDT
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Richmond-Burton coach like sister to Rockets

Richmond-Burton girls volleyball coach Kaycee Kaywood's team will face Jacksonville on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal in the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals. (Monica Maschak - mmaschak@shawmedia.com)

RICHMOND – The volleyball court at Richmond-Burton has long been coach Kaycee Kaywood’s home away from home.

Kaywood’s R-B roots run deeper than coaching the Rockets’ varsity team since 2008. Kaywood (nee Kane) graduated from R-B in 2002 after playing volleyball all four years – a setter while in the back row and an outside hitter in the front – and was part of a Rockets squad that won a regional title in 2001, the program’s first in 13 years.

The R-B connection doesn’t stop there with the coaching staff. Assistant Jenny Robison graduated in 2005, the same year the Rockets won their last regional title until R-B’s historic postseason run to the IHSA Class 3A state semifinals this season.

“Everybody always asks me, ‘Why would you want to go back to the high school that you went to? And my simple answer is because I love it and I love the people that work there,” Kaywood said. “I think it has a little impact on the community in that it’s nice to see former students enjoy the school and the experience that they got enough to come back and work here.”

Under Kaywood’s guidance, the Rockets earned their first appearance in the state semifinals, dropping only four matches en route to Friday’s match against Jacksonville at Redbird Arena in Normal.

“She works us hard to make sure we can be the best we can be,” senior outside hitter Alex Callanan said. “She’s like a sister to us; we can tell her anything. ... It’s been a long journey with her.”

The connection she has developed with her players, especially the five seniors, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Many of the Rockets referred to Kaywood as a sister, including senior setter Kara Russell, who, along with her twin sister Kim, have known their coach since she they were young.

“I’ve known her since I was a little kid because she was best friends with my brother, so she’s known us since we were little and now we’re playing for her,” Kara Russell said. “I kind of liked it because I felt comfortable playing for her and I knew her well.”

But don’t mistake a sisterly relationship for leniency on the court. Kaywood and the Rockets set high expectations entering the 2012 season after disappointing postseason performances the previous two years. Although they reached their goal by making it to state, R-B is hardly satisfied, given how far they’ve come with two matches remaining.

Part of the Rockets’ success of finally overcoming past demons resulted from Kaywood revamping practices. Kaywood and her staff created a practice routine that included a focus on basic ball handling skills while incorporating cardio to improve conditioning. Junior outside hitter Ali Frantti described the practices as “harder and more focused,” and it has been exactly what the Rockets needed.

Despite the plethora of praise from her players, Kaywood didn’t want to take any credit for the Rockets’ success.

“Honestly, they don’t need me; they could do this on their own, they really could,” Kaywood said. “I’m just there to get them talking and have them point out what needs to be done and establish some leadership roles. Otherwise, they’ve done it.”