UPDATE: Illini 'best fit' for STM star

UPDATE: Illini 'best fit' for STM star

CHAMPAIGN — Rumors started swirling in late November that Mica Allison was leaving Auburn.

That her potential transfer destination was going to be Illinois wasn’t too far behind on the rumor mill.

How that word got out, Allison isn’t sure.

But it did lead to a funny first conversation with Illinois coach Chris Tamas once he gave her a call.

“I answered the phone and he was like, ‘You’re coming here, but I haven’t even talked to you once,’ ” Allison said with a laugh. “I honestly I have no idea how everyone found out. It was really hard kind of living this secret life because I couldn’t say a word and my family couldn’t say a word. Everybody was making assumptions.”

They turned out to be correct assumptions, though.
Allison visited Illinois on Monday after the Illini returned from the Final Four.

The former St. Thomas More standout and 2017 N-G All-Area Player of the Year and First Team All-State selection’s transfer was announced Thursday, along with the addition of Champaign Central middle blocker Rylee Hinton.

They’ll both join the team starting with the spring semester and get a jumpstart on their Illini careers.

“Mid years don’t always come up like this,” Tamas said. “For the quality that both of them are at and for the fact they’re both local is awesome — not only for the community, but for Illinois volleyball. I think we have a lot of great talent in the area, and we want to show the country that Illinois volleyball is one of the top producers of talent in the country. This is a step in the right direction.”

Allison decided at the end of her freshman season at Auburn that she wanted a change. She was feeling unhappy — mostly because of the distance from home.

Family’s important to the White Heath native.

“I love being around my family,” Allison said. “Every time they came I was like, ‘Please don’t leave me.’ I have nothing against Auburn. I love the people there. I love the school. It just didn’t feel like the best fit for me. It was probably toward the end of the season I decided I wanted to see what else was out there.

“I told myself if Illinois was an option that was the place I was supposed to be. … Everything did fall picture perfectly, and I’m just very happy that I’m back home and I get to represent home.”

New NCAA transfer rules saw Allison’s name added to the list on the online transfer portal once she decided.

Tamas saw her name pop up and also had multiple coaches congratulate him on adding Allison to his roster well before it even happened.

It wasn’t quite so simple. Tamas took time to speak with St. Thomas More coach Stan Bergman, Illini Elite VBC coach Andy Erins and other people that knew Allison to see if she would mesh with the program he’s trying to build at Illinois.

“I just said, ‘Hey, is this the right fit?’ ” Tamas said. “Everyone had great things to say about her, and talking with her, she wants to come back for all the right reasons. Part of that was a conversation with my team, too. I made sure that they were accepting of everyone who wants to come here.”

Allison will enter into a setter competition as soon as she arrives at Illinois.

The Illini are losing First Team All-American Jordyn Poulter. That spot in the lineup is up for grabs, and it will come down to Allison, Diana Brown and walk-on Kylie Bruder.

Allison and Brown were both ranked in the top 50 nationally in the Class of 2018. Brown, who essentially served a one-year apprenticeship under Poulter while redshirting this past season, checked in at No. 45.

Allison, who earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors at Auburn, was ranked the No. 7 recruit in the country.

“We played against each other a lot in club,” Allison said of Brown. “I just officially met her for the first time — said my first words to her — on my visit. She seemed like one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’ve also heard she’s super smart. I’m very excited to get to play with her and have that healthy competition in the gym every day.”

Competition is exactly what it will be when the Illini return to the practice gym in mid-January.

“Any great program is going to have a lot of competition,” Tamas said. “It’s what breeds excellence. As long as they understand what that competition is and how to work as a team, it will be all good. You’re going to find out who the best person is because they’re going to have that competition every day. They’re going to have that pressure every day to perform.”

Illinois’ next setter will have big shoes to fill in Poulter’s absence.

“She is an amazing setter,” Allison said. “I think she has left what a setter should be like at Illinois.”

Still, it’s not something Tamas really stressed when he spoke with Allison about the possibility of her joining the Illini.

“On my visit he said, ‘You’re not Jordyn. You won’t be Jordyn. I don’t expect you to be Jordyn,’ ” Allison said. “I thought that was pretty cool. I don’t think that I should be comparing myself to her necessarily because she is one of the greatest. I just hope I can help the team in whatever way I can pretty much.”

Officially adding Allison and Hinton pretty much locks in Illinois’ roster for the 2019 season.

Hinton is one of four 2019 recruits to sign in addition to outside hitter/middle blocker Ellie Holzman, middle blocker Kyla Swanson and outside hitter Kennedy Collins. The Illini also have commitments from 2019 defensive specialists Alyssa Eske and Madison Chi.

That just leaves Croatian outside hitter Bruna Ana Vrankovic’s status up in the air. The Illini petitioned to have Vrankovic on the 2018 roster, but her eligibility was denied by the NCAA after she had played professionally in Europe.

She is also serving a 1 year, 10 months FIVB doping suspension through July 3, 2019.

“We’re still working to get Bruna on the roster,” Tamas said. “Her time is being dealt with by the NCAA, and we’re working through that as best we can.”