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Mica Allison developed some early memories at Huff Hall watching Illinois volleyball. Now the White Heath native and St. Thomas More graduate is an Illini. The Auburn transfer will start her sophomore season when Illinois travels to Knoxville, Tenn., to face Tennessee at 7 p.m. on Friday. Allison’s connection to the Illinois program and how she got back to Champaign County is a story she shared in depth, in her own words, with beat writer Scott Richey.

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Scott Richey talks with Mica Allison at the volleyball media day at Huff Hall on UI campus in Champaign on Friday August 23, 2019.

It really starts with a single picture.

Actually, this is really funny. I was thinking about this the other day. One of my first pictures I ever posted on Instagram was me and a friend out in that back parking lot going to a game here. It was one of my favorite pictures all time at the moment. My mom always wanted to come to games, and I was always in for it. I was like, “Yeah, I’ll go!” whenever we could.

Her truly formative Illinois volleyball memories involved the Jocelynn Birks era Illini. Still, at that time, she never really put herself in an Illinois jersey playing on the Huff Hall floor.

At the time, too, I was playing like three other sports. I didn’t know that volleyball was what I wanted to do, and I didn’t even think about playing in college (until) probably like freshman year of high school. I played softball, basketball and volleyball, and I got hurt. I hurt my back trying to do so much at one time. After that I knew I didn’t want to play basketball. I didn’t want to continue softball. So volleyball was what I wanted to spend my time doing.

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St. Thomas More's Mica Allison (13) sets the ball during the IHSA Class 2A state volleyball semifinals at Redbird Arena on the Illinois State University campus Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, in Normal, Ill. 

Then came the question of where volleyball would take her. Allison ultimately committed to Auburn early in her sophomore year.

Honestly — being completely honest — my recruiting process was very different. Being a setter, they try to get you first. The setters are first, and the hitters can base off who their setters are kind of. Being honest, I ran out of a lot of Big Ten schools as options. It was a stressful moment feeling like I didn’t have many schools to go to. It felt rushed. Just a lot of that. I’m so happy that the rule has changed now so freshmen in high school aren’t having to choose a school they want to go to in four years. I liked the south. I love warm weather. I love football. All those things played into it. I don’t want to bash the SEC. It’s still a good, high level conference. I basically ran out of some options and based it on what school I would want to go to if I wasn’t playing volleyball. I loved Auburn as a school.

Allison started every match last season at Auburn and earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors. Still, college volleyball wasn’t everything she wanted it to be. Being at Illinois could provide that, so it was with some excitement she watched the Illini’s 2018 Final Four run and even more excitement when she was officially added to the roster just a week after coach Chris Tamas’ team played in the national semifinals.

I would say that throughout the season I just knew that I had more in me, and I expected more out of myself.

It’s actually funny because I was very nervous. I knew they were going far. I talked to a lot of people that know Chris and have a relationship and could talk to him through me. I told my parents that I knew this was where I wanted to be when I wanted to transfer. So the other schools I was talking to, it was just more of a backup kind of. Like I needed to have an option if this doesn’t work out, you know?

I know when I was going through this process again I was not there with all the other schools I was talking to. I was like, if this doesn’t work out, these have to be my backup options. I knew this was where I wanted to be, and if it didn’t work out I had those backup options.I think it was excitement. I wouldn’t say it was a relief. Maybe a little bit so I wouldn’t have to go to the schools that were backups, but it was more just excitement seeing them go so far and knowing that I was going to be a part of that team. It was a very cool feeling.

Coming here has definitely been a challenge. I signed up for this. I’m going to have to compete every single day I walk into practice. There’s no days off. You can’t come in feeling tired, feeling sorry for yourself. It’s not a challenge — maybe it is a little bit — but it’s more of an opportunity that I get to come in every single day and compete hard.

Allison is competing for the starting setter role with redshirt freshman Diana Brown. The pressure she’s placed on herself coming home and the expectations she’s set are high. Too high, maybe.

It’s kind of unrealistic. I’m not going to lie.

Like I said I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself right now, and it’s kind of making me a little bit miserable. I’m trying to think of it like I came here, all my family members are going to come see me. I know if I’m not on the court they’re still going to love me. Chris is going to put the best six players out there. It’s a team sport, and that’s what it is. I’m trying not to have any expectations right now and just have fun with it.

I’d say I put a lot of pressure on myself, and it does get the best of me sometimes being stressed. It’s not a good feeling. This has definitely been a learning experience for me, and all the coaches have been helping me through it.

I’m trying to stay more laid back, I guess, and not set any expectations for myself. I’ve been trying to keep my faith very strong through all of this. I’m very thankful that I’m here. I could be in a lot worse of situations, so I’m trying to be very grateful for what I have.

I would say that’s one thing that’s helping me right now is not focusing on the outcome and just going day by day. Taking it day by day.

How can I be the best Mica I can be in this one day? Then going to bed feeling like I was the best Mica I could be and doing it all again the next day.

Scott Richey covers college basketball for The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).