McCulley has a spike of confidence



By Anthony Zilis

The year was 2006, and Kylie McCulley was a freshman breaking into the rotation against then-No. 2 Penn State.

“Being thrown into the rotation, I basically had nothing to lose going in there. I knew I just had to play, and I didn’t hold anything back,” she said.

The outside hitter exploded for 19 kills and hit .265, breaking out as one of the top freshmen in the conference.

But an injury-riddled sophomore season slowed down what was once a promising career for McCulley.

In 2008, the junior still wears a boot when she’s not playing, a consequence of a foot injury she suffered the previous year.

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But even though she can still feel the pain from nerve damage in her foot, this year is different for McCulley. This time, she won’t let injury get in the way of what is quickly becoming a breakout season.

“It’s a lot of time and effort to come back from injury, you have treatment all the time, and there’s some days you really have to work through the pain and stuff like that,” she said. “You just have to know when you have to push and when you have to step back, but its been a process.”

This type of preparation led to a huge performance last Saturday against the same team she broke out against during her freshman year – Penn State.

As some of her teammates, including preseason All-Big Ten outside hitter Laura DeBruler, struggled to hit past one of the best blocks in the country, McCulley hit an astonishing .381 with 9 kills while only committing one error.

“They were a great team, they had a huge block,” McCulley said. “So I just needed to swing high and not try to do anything special outside of what we’re used to.”

The outside hitter stressed the importance of playing within her limits.

“You don’t have to change anything just because they’re a good team, so I just went out there and did what we’ve worked on every single day,” she said.

Thanks to last weekend’s performance, Illini coach Don Hardin believes McCulley is making a name for herself.

“They stacked up on her, they knew we were setting, they went over and she’s still just pounding away,” Hardin said. “She’s really becoming one of the best players in the conference.”

In fact, no player with at least 20 total attacks had hit as high of a percentage as McCulley against Penn State all season. All this came after a scintillating performance against Indiana, in which she hit .357 with 11 kills and only one error.

Other teams are taking note of McCulley’s year.

“Everybody was talking about Laura, and now Kylie’s the one they’re becoming concerned about,” Hardin said.

Watching McCulley play, a casual observer wouldn’t be able to tell that she feels pain every play. Call it work ethic or call it something else but Hardin thinks, in a strange way, the injury can be beneficial.

“I think the fact that she’s always got that pain is somehow making her a little stronger too because of the way she’s handling that pain,” he said. “She wants it bad, she’s not going to let anything get in her way.”

It was this work ethic that led her to call herself out in the locker room after a poor game against Illinois State, in which she only hit .149 and displayed a poor passing game.

McCulley showed the work ethic that everyone involved with Illini volleyball has become accustomed to and worked tirelessly the entire next week on her passing game.

“I’m working on every skill of the game to improve,” she said. “There’s things I’m better at, there’s things I’m not as good at. I still focus on the things I’m good at to make that better.”

Hardin said this accountability is what makes her special:”It’s really impressive when somebody takes responsibility and doesn’t make excuses…It shows a lot of leadership on her part.”

Honorable Mention

Arrelious Benn – Football

The wide receiver put up 110 yards on four catches against Penn State on Saturday. Benn scored two of the Illini’s three touchdowns in their 38-24 loss to the Nittany Lions.

Daniel Cohen – Hockey

The sophomore forward helped the Illini sweep Michigan State last weekend, scoring two goals in the team’s 8-0 victory on Saturday. Illinois is now 2-0 on the season.