SPRING GROVE — Ali Frantti’s volleyball recruitment followed a reverse pattern.
The typical process begins with a college coach contacting a player — or the coach — while hoping to spark an interest.
Frantti picked her school and made the first move.
As a sixth-grader.
“I sent Coach (Russ) Rose an email in sixth grade telling him I was interested in playing at Penn State one day,” Frantti said.
She hit the send button late in 2007, shortly after Penn State won what would be the first of four consecutive national championships. Rose never responded, but Frantti wasn’t deterred.
“I don’t even know if I had the right email,” she said, “but I wasn’t disappointed I didn’t hear back. I remember being excited I sent the email and being hopeful he got it.”
At some point, Rose — who coached his sixth national championship team earlier this month — got the message about the aspiring youngster from Richmond-Burton High School.
When her high school seasons ended, Frantti played for the Marengo-based Fusion club team.
“My setter from club (Boylan’s Bryanna Weiskircher) committed to Penn State her sophomore year,” Frantti said. “Coach Rose would be at our club games, but I just assumed he was there for our setter.
“I was always hopeful they were scouting me but wasn’t so sure. I was skinny and still growing.”
Frantti now has surpassed the 6-foot-2 mark — “in shoes,” her mother Kelly said, “she is pushing 6-3” — and is proof that dreams do come true.
Rose and the Nittany Lions have had her on their wish list since the summer of 2012, when she attended a camp at the university prior to her junior year at Richmond-Burton.
In two weeks, Frantti will arrive at Happy Valley, enrolling on full scholarship in time for the spring semester. The state’s Gatorade Player of the Year — and a powerful outside hitter who is ranked second nationally among current seniors regardless of position — headlines the 32nd News-Gazette All-State volleyball team as Player of the Year.
She was one of two players from the state selected to participate in last week’s All-America game at Seattle. The other player was future Penn State teammate Weiskircher, who is ranked 13th nationally among seniors by prepvolleyball.com.
“It’s pretty amazing how everything worked out,” said Frantti, who also visited Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue.
“What made Penn State appealing is the coaches will keep you humble and push you really hard. They have respected academic programs, the campus is beautiful and they have a rich tradition in their volleyball program.”
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When many high schoolers are thinking ahead to their senior prom and graduation, Frantti is prepared to break the home ties and move out on her own.
Nearly 600 miles away.
“My decision to graduate early from high school was the right decision but a little difficult to make at first,” Frantti said. “I’m going to miss my friends and family, of course, but I’m ready to start preparing for my future. I have a lot to learn, and starting college early will help me prepare for the next step I need to take.”
Mom knew that her only daughter would be leaving the nest soon. The timetable was just put in fast-forward.
“There were more pros than cons,” Kelly Frantti said. “This is her future, and she thought getting to school a little bit early would put her one step ahead of the game.
“She’ll know what it takes to be a college student and will get to know her coaches and teammates. She’ll know what the day-to-day life will be like and, hopefully, this fall she will be ready to go.”
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Dan and Kelly Frantti have four children. Ali’s three brothers have trended toward hockey, though the youngest (seventh-grade Chase) is “very passionate about hockey and football,” Dan Frantti said.
Ali tried virtually every sport, ranging from cross-country to gymnastics, from swimming to tennis and from soccer to softball.
“Volleyball was the last sport I was introduced to,” Ali Frantti said.
She started playing as a fifth-grader.
“What separated volleyball from all of the other sports were the coaches I had early and the positive impact they had on me,” she said. “One of my first coaches (with the Fusion club team) was Mike Bui. I remember how he made the time spent in the gym so fun. He made practices fun and was always in a joking mood, but I also learned a lot from him. It was a sense of comfort to me that people cared so much and wanted young girls to have fun while learning the game of volleyball.”
Frantti’s parents didn’t push their children in a particular direction but made them understand the need to pick a sport on which to focus.
“She was good at everything she did,” Kelly Frantti said. “We have four children, and we’re busy with all of them. I said, ‘You have to focus on one thing. You have to make a decision.’
“After a few years went by, she decided she had a passion for volleyball.”
The commitment to the Fusion club program was not a small one.
“A major commitment,” Kelly Frantti said. “It was basically a six-hour evening, an hour to get there, practice for 21/2 to three hours, and home. I have a 2001 Chevy Suburban, and it has 326,000 miles. Sometimes we’d get home at 10:30, and she’d still have to finish homework.”
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Ali Frantti was far from a natural when she added volleyball to her play list.
“It was hard for me to hold the passing form the coaches were trying to get us to learn,” she said. “I wouldn’t consider myself good at that age, but I knew I loved playing. The most important part was having fun and not worrying about being good at a young age because there is time to grow and learn.”
The growth hasn’t stopped.
Frantti was 5-9 when she started her prep career at Richmond-Burton High School, located near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. After growing an inch last year, she’s eclipsed the 6-2 mark.
“She was always tall for her age but not extremely tall,” Dan Frantti said. “She’s a late bloomer.”
She’s comfortable in her size 11 shoes, but added, “I’m not sure I’m done growing. I could be growing into college.”
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Illinois is a volleyball-rich state. In the individual preseason national rankings compiled by prepvolleyball.com, two states had five players each listed among the country’s top 22 seniors. California joined Illinois on the list of the elite.
Frantti was rated second among all seniors nationally, first among outside hitters and first among athletes in the Land of Lincoln.
Rather than think about the recognition, she went out and had one of the best seasons in state history, becoming the seventh girl in state history with at least 600 kills for a season. As recently as 2002, the single-season IHSA record was 561 kills by ex-Illini Tina Rogers, from Mount Pulaski in 1988.
If there’d been any sign of an ego, Mom and Dad would have noticed. And put a stop to it.
“She does not get caught up in any of it,” Kelly Frantti said. “She goes to practice and works her hardest. She has this work ethic you can’t teach. Either it’s in you or it’s not.”
It’s never been about Ali Frantti, first and foremost.
“If people need help in a class, or after practice to pass a little better, she takes the time,” Kelly Frantti said. “It’s neat to see her extend herself. She’s a gracious person. Her character is not any different off the court.”
Despite her credentials, Ali Frantti was humble about her selection to headline The News-Gazette All-State team.
“It is unexpected,” she said. “While it is nice to be recognized, I don’t get caught up in these awards because I have a lot to improve on.”
She doesn’t expect to start out her collegiate career as one of Penn State’s best players.
Of the high school seniors rated among the top 13 nationally, she is one of five who will join the Nittany Lions. Veteran coach Rose successfully recruited players ranked No. 1, No. 2, No. 8, No. 12 and No. 13.
More challenges await, but Ali Frantti has successfully navigated the ones in her past. A teenager who won’t turn 18 until spring, she wasn’t upset about the sacrifices that came with being committed to a year-round sport.
“Ali never once complained to me, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ ” Kelly Frantti said. “The only thing she said was, ‘Thank you, Mom.’ ”
Players of the Year
YEAR NAME SCHOOL POS.
2013 Ali Frantti Richmond-Burton OH
2012 Lauren Carlini West Aurora S/OH
2011 Meghan Niski St. Charles East OH
2010 Jocelynn Birks Lyons LaGrange OH
2009 AnneMarie Hickey Joliet Catholic OH
2008 Hannah Werth Chatham Glenwood OH/S
2007 Kelly Farrell Crystal Lake Central S
2006 Kelly Murphy Joliet Catholic S/OH
2005 Tara Hester Naperville Central OH
2004 Sarah Kwasigroch Sandburg S
2003 Katie Bruzdzinski Naperville North OH
2002 Meghan Macdonald Downers Grove South MH
2001 Dani Nyenhuis St. Charles East OH
2000 Ogonna Nnamani Normal U-High OH
1999 Ogonna Nnamani Normal U-High OH
1998 Elizabeth Gower Naperville Central S/OH
1997 Mia Perry Jacksonville OH
1996 Katie Schumacher Mother McAuley MH
1995 Ryann Connors Mother McAuley OH
1994 Tracy Black Downers Grove South OH
1993 Terri Zemaitis Downers Grove South MH
1992 Colleen Miniuk St. Charles OH
1991 Marnie Triefenbach Belleville West MH
1990 Marnie Triefenbach Belleville West MH