When the Richmond-Burton volleyball team steps onto the court today under the bright lights at Redbird Arena in Normal, butterflies will be fluttering as they embrace the unknown.
The unknown has yet to be an issue during the Rockets’ postseason run filled with firsts. The previous accolades – regional, sectional and supersectional titles – won’t matter when they begin their warmups in Normal. Past disappointments forgotten, the Rockets are making sure they cherish their first appearance at state in the program’s 40-year history.
“I felt like we grew up a lot and became more mature,” junior outside hitter Ali Frantti said. “We’re still the same goofy girls, but I think because we have a group of seniors, this is it. Let’s go out with a bang. We play every game like it’s our last together.”
The Rockets meet Jacksonville today at about 6 p.m. in the second Class 3A semifinal. The winner advances to Saturday’s state championship match against the winner of the 4:30 p.m. match between St. Francis and Champaign Centennial.
“I don’t think it’s really going to set in until we get there and we’re in the middle of Redbird Arena, looking around and taking it in,” coach Kaycee Kaywood said.
Jacksonville (30-8) undoubtedly will try to force R-B (36-4) to run its offense through someone other than Frantti.
It’s easy to understand why they would adopt that strategy.
Frantti’s 519 kills entering the state semifinals are the most by any Class 3A player since the emergence of the four-class system in 2007. Only two players on any state qualifier in any class have had more kills before the state semis: Jordan Haverly in 2007 (574 with Class 1A Keith School in Rockford) and Rachel Hockaday in 2007 (535 with Class 2A Maroa-Forsyth).
Her 519 kills are already 14th most in a single season in state history.
“I try not to let it get to my head,” Frantti said of opponents trying to shut her down. “ ... If I get blocked, I’m not going to be timid. I’m going to keep going.”
But for as deadly an offense the Rockets boast – three players, Frantti, Alex Callanan and Kim Russell, have combined for 1,003 kills this season – their defense can’t be overlooked. The best teams can’t make it far in the postseason without steady performances from their back row. It’s no different for R-B.
Anchored by senior libero Marissa Woodward, the Rockets expect to be challenged against Jacksonville. The Crimsons feature junior middle blocker Jaelyn Keene, who can beat defenses both at the net (100 blocks) and on the attack (439 kills). No one else on Jacksonville has more than 176 kills or 58 blocks.
“We really want to focus on our passing and our serve-receive because without that you won’t be able to run our offense, and we know that,” Woodward said. “One thing we really focus on defense is our talking because we realize the more we talk, the more we move our feet, and the more we move our feet, the more we put the ball up to run our offense.”