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Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette Unity's head coach Kylie Mcculley in a Class 3A Unity Regional volleyball semifinal at the high school in Tolono on Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018

A decade ago, Kylie McCulley was wrapping up a four-year volleyball career at the University of Illinois. Now, she’s preparing for her seventh season running Unity volleyball. The 2006 Clinton grad checks in:

Your team was a set away from winning a Class 3A regional title last year. What has the offseason been like?

We’ve seen a lot of improvement. We graduated three varsity starters, so we’re having some roles to fill, having kids step up. Our frosh/JV girls won the St. Joe summer league, and then our varsity girls won the St. Thomas More summer league. So competing against some local teams with a different lineup each week because we have a lot of kids traveling in summer. It seemed like no matter what lineup we had during what week, kids filled in and didn’t really skip a beat, which is good to see.

Those three varsity starters were the only graduating athletes from 2018’s team. Is your recent youth paying dividends now?

Absolutely. With my coaching staff doing both junior high and high school, we kind of seem to be able to meld that transition. And having our sophomore class be that class that played in the (IESA) state championship match and having so much talent there (is big). We had a lot of kids playing up this summer in varsity league that might not necessarily have a huge role in the fall because we have so many seniors and some returning players, but they could easily step up into that position if need be.

How much has volleyball changed since you graduated from Illinois?

The game has changed a lot, and that’s just kind of the sport. You have to stay up with things. Even as a former Division I player, there’s just so much to learn still, and things that are changing — you don’t want to get stuck in time, even though it hasn’t been that long. I think the game’s getting faster. It’s becoming a more physical, athletic game, and just everybody’s technical skills are continuing to improve.

Do you see yourself as a role model to local talent?

Yeah, I do. ... The kids like to hear about my experience playing. I played club at Illini Elite, which some of my players have now begun to go to. ... I definitely think the girls look up to me, and I hold that near and dear to my heart.

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is clikas@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).