WILLIAMSVILLE — The University of Illinois volleyball program won’t announce any signings Wednesday for the start of the National Letter of Intent period.
That doesn’t mean the Illini don’t have a recruit on the way for the 2014 season.
Brandi Donnelly, a senior at Williamsville High School who orally committed to coach Kevin Hambly’s team last February, will graduate next month and enroll at the UI for the spring semester starting in January.
Under these unique cir-cumstances, Donnelly will not sign a letter of intent because that is specifically designed for student-athletes entering college in the next academic year.
As a mid-year entrant who will not be on scholarship during the spring semester, Donnelly instead will sign a financial aid agreement for the 2014-15 academic year. Donnelly can do so once she starts classes at the UI, and at that point the Illini are permitted to announce that she has joined the program.
The 5-foot-8 Donnelly plays outside hitter for her high school and club teams but will be utilized in college as a defensive specialist, with the chance to contend for the libero position that will open next season with the graduation of Jennifer Beltran. Donnelly totaled 884 digs during her final two seasons with the Bullets.
With Beltran the only UI senior on scholarship, Donnelly is the team’s lone re-
cruit for next season. Donnelly said she has been promised a scholarship for her freshman, sophomore and senior years.
Donnelly indicated that the idea of entering the UI early was planted by Hambly
last summer while she attended one of the program’s camps. As a UI student, she will be able to train with the Illini during the spring semester.
“I’m really excited about it,” Donnelly said last weekend. “I think it will help me out a lot, just getting in there and getting used to it and see how you balance practice and college.”
Donnelly indicated that she mulled her decision for about two weeks, primarily because it would mean not playing a final season of prep softball. A three-year starter at third base, Donnelly was projected as the No. 1 pitcher next spring for a program that had a combined 92-11 record the past three seasons, finished second in the Class 2A state tournament in 2012 and reached the super-sectional last spring.
“My school’s pretty good at softball, and we always go really far (in the tournament) — and I would have been the starting pitcher this year — so that was a really hard decision,” she said. “I didn’t really want to tell my coaches ... but they were really supportive about it.”
By entering college early, Donnelly also gives up the opportunity to play a final season of club ball with Bloomington-based Illini Elite. The club’s training schedule starts this month, and its tournament schedule runs into June.
“That was really hard because I played with those girls forever,” said Donnelly, a News-Gazette All-State honorable-mention pick as a sophomore and junior. “I
just felt weird not finishing it out.”
To get the credits needed to graduate early, she took a full class schedule this fall as well as two classes by mail in sociology and government. Combined with volleyball — the Bullets reached the Class 2A sectional semifinals and finished 26-8 — the future Illini has been on the go all fall.
“It wasn’t too bad,” Donnelly said. “I did the extra classes on Sundays. Each chapter took me probably two or three days.”