CHAMPAIGN — As Anna McClure explained the importance of her next IHSA volleyball season, to be conducted this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one particular word stood out when she described the experience on Wednesday night.
Well, maybe three words.
“I want to play at the highest level, and the key word is play,” the St. Thomas More junior said. “I want to be able to get in there and play — hopefully my freshman year, but who knows. I’m just trying to close the gap between me and the other Ohio State liberos right now.”
Easy to see which pieces of that statement catch the eye.
The first two are Ohio State, the college to which McClure verbally committed to on Thursday afternoon. She joins STM setter and fellow junior Caroline Kerr in connecting to a Division I volleyball program, with Kerr choosing Tennessee in July.
The third is the plural of libero.
And that’s because the defensive-focused position is not one McClure has played during her first two seasons starting at STM. Nor is it one she’s likely to take when the Sabers’ new campaign begins, saying she’ll instead stick with the outside hitter role she’s previously occupied.
“This year for club (with Illini Elite) ... they wanted me primarily for back-row play and to improve them defensive-wise,” McClure said. “So I have had some experience with that. ... Being a diverse player on the court and playing multiple positions is going to benefit so much when it comes to college.”
McClure had multiple big-name programs vying for her volleyball services. The 5-foot-9 athlete selected Buckeyes coach Jen Flynn Oldenburg’s group out of a trio of finalists that also included Illinois and Louisville.
Had McClure chosen the Illini, she’d have followed in some familiar footsteps. Her mother, STM volleyball coach Kelly McClure, spent the 1993 through 1996 seasons in orange and blue as an outside hitter and middle blocker at Illinois.
“It was a really hard decision. Extremely hard, actually,” Anna McClure said. “But I’m just excited to be writing my own path, and that’s something I really wanted to do by this time when I was younger. I always wanted to have the opportunity to be able to have these options and then be able to pick the school that fits best for me.”
Ohio State compiled a 15-17 record last year in the daunting Big Ten. But that was achieved under former coach Geoff Carlston, who left the Buckeyes last December after 12 seasons and was replaced by Oldenburg, an Ohio State graduate and former Buckeyes standout, in January.
“(Oldenburg) is so competitive — probably one of the most competitive people that I’ve gotten to know,” McClure said, “and she wants to recruit people who share the same competitive intensity.”
McClure’s athletic determination and powerful swing have been on display for STM volleyball since she entered the prep ranks in 2018.
She ranked 10th locally last season by averaging 4.27 kills per set for a 35-3 STM unit, which moved up to Class 3A postseason action because of past results at 2A and still won a regional championship. McClure was named a News-Gazette All-Area second-team selection after the campaign.
McClure also was part of the Sabers’ 2018 2A third-place finish. Additional team success is something McClure seeks from her college future.
“I was just trying to find programs that I could see their vision,” McClure said. “Those three programs (Ohio State, Illinois and Louisville), they just had amazing goals for the future and goals I wanted to be a part of.”
That they happened also to be D-I outfits was icing on the cake.
“It’s just so crazy. I can’t even comprehend it,” McClure said. “It’s so exciting, but it’s definitely not the end. It’s just the beginning of a new journey and a new goal. There’s so much more work to be done.”
In the Buckeyes’ case, it helped that Oldenburg was the first coach to dial McClure’s number when the volleyball Class of 2022’s official college offering period began on June 15.
“It gave me a lot of confidence,” McClure said, “just the fact that they believed in me. And they had come to some of my club games. Just knowing they wanted to see me and get to know me was an amazing feeling.”
In addition to honing her volleyball skills with Illini Elite these days — waiting for her next prep volleyball season to commence Feb. 15 — McClure is exploring a longstanding passion for another sport.
McClure has engaged in swimming for a large portion of her life, but the crossover between the IHSA’s usual volleyball and girls’ swimming and diving timelines previously forced McClure to choose one venture over the other.
Not this year, as girls’ swim and dive continues under strict pandemic-related guidelines. And McClure is hitting the pool alongside some of her volleyball pals, Kerr and senior Maci Walters.
“We haven’t had any meets yet. Our first meet was supposed to be last weekend and it was canceled, so that was tough news,” McClure said. “I do love swimming, and it’s something I’m super excited to have the opportunity to do this season.”