Central's Hinton is on the fast track

Central's Hinton is on the fast track

CHAMPAIGN — Rylee Hinton had to wait 528 days between committing and signing to play volleyball at Illinois. The Champaign Central senior's wait to start her Illini career, though, will be significantly shorter.

Hinton, who signed her National Letter of Intent on Wednesday afternoon, will enroll early at Illinois next semester with the added benefit that the 6-foot-2 middle blocker will get a head start on her collegiate volleyball career.

"It finally feels real," Hinton said. " I feel like I've been waiting for this for so long. I'm just so excited — like so excited — especially with the way the season is going now. I'm so excited to be there and contribute to that success."

Hinton said she decided this past summer that she wanted to enroll early. She got her academics in order to graduate from Central at the end of this semester, and a thumbs up from Illinois coach Chris Tamas on the idea solidified her plans.

"It was the smartest decision for me," Hinton said. "I didn't want to waste any time. Obviously, I love club volleyball, but I felt like I could get the most out of my time if I went early and started actually working with Chris' system."

Illinois will lose a pair of middle blockers after this season in seniors Ali Bastianelli and Blayke Hranicka. Hinton isn't the only potential middle in the Illini's 2019 class — Ellie Holzman and Kyla Swanson can both play that spot — but Hinton sees enrolling early as giving herself a head start with the Illini.

"It's going to be a huge advantage to be able to play spring season with them and really get a feel for things and not have to just jump right into the season," Hinton said. "You only get 14 days with the coach right before the seasons starts. Being able to have this time with Chris and really get better and get to where I need to be will be a huge advantage. I'll be able to use that extra time to work and hopefully be the best replacement I can be for (Bastianelli)."

Illinois announced the signing of three players in the 2019 class on Wednesday. Hinton wasn't one of them, as her early acceptance paperwork still has to go through.

Holzman, a 6-2 outside hitter/middle blocker from New Orleans, is the highest-ranked of the group at No. 36 among the PrepVolleyball.com Senior Aces. Swanson, a 6-4 middle blocker from Wahoo, Neb., is the No. 1 player in the state and a 2018 AVCA Under Armour All-American Second Team selection. Zion-Benton outside hitter Kennedy Collins rounded out the official announcements.

Illinois will also add a pair of walk-ons in the 2019 class in 5-8 defensive specialist Madison Chi out of Irvine, Calif., and 5-5 defensive specialist Alyssa Eske out of Milwaukee, Wis.

"We've actually gotten pretty close," Hinton said of that 2019 class. "We text every single day. I talk to them every day, and I'm so excited to actually get to spend time with them every day on campus.

"If we don't win the national championship this year, I'm hoping for it within the next few years with this group. We're really strong. I trust Chris so much with the girls he's recruiting and what he's doing with the program that we're going to be successful."

Tamas and his coaching staff was the top sell for Hinton in picking Illinois. That includes assistant coach Rashinda Reed and volunteer assistant Jen Tamas, who both coach the Illini middles.

"It's the coaching staff 100 percent," Hinton said. "I've lived in Champaign my whole life, so nothing really changed with the actual school. The coaching staff is what just sold me 100 percent. Chris is amazing. He wants to win, and that's exactly what I was looking for. I want someone who was going to push me and who wants to win a national championship."