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Sports

Kelly Murphy's Olympic volleyball potential was evident early on

Joliet Catholic graduate Kelly Murphy is preparing to represent her country in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the U.S. women's volleyball team.
Joliet Catholic graduate Kelly Murphy is preparing to represent her country in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the U.S. women's volleyball team.

Samantha Quigley, these days the women’s basketball coach at University of St. Francis, said Joliet Catholic Academy graduate Kelly Murphy on the volleyball court is not unlike Quigley’s sister Allie, who plays for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, on the basketball court.

“Kelly walks in a gym and it’s that attention she draws,” said Quigley, who like her sister was among JCA’s prominent multi-sport athletes. “Her demeanor is low key. She is very humble. She is almost a quiet assassin. She reminds me a lot of Allie in that regard.”

Quigley was describing the Joliet area’s newest Olympian. Murphy, a former University of Florida all-American, was among 12 named last week to the U.S. women’s volleyball team that will compete in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, beginning Aug. 6. The United States has won silver medals at the last two Olympics.

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Murphy is the area’s first Olympian in her sport.

Lockport graduate Haley Auguello is a member of the U.S. women’s wrestling team for these Olympics. Among former female Olympians from the area are Lisa Chesson from Plainfield Central, a defenseman on the 2010 Winter Olympics hockey team; Ginny Georgantas from Lockport, who played softball for Greece in the 2004 Summer Olympics, and Cathy Boswell from Joliet West, a member of the U.S. women’s basketball team that won gold in Los Angeles in 1984.

Quigley was captain of the JCA volleyball team when Murphy, who grew up in Wilmington, was an underclassman.

“It’s amazing to see her develop, the way she commands the floor, her versatility,” Quigley said. “She can set, hit, play the back row, serve. She can do it all.

“It’s amazing to have had someone with celebrity status playing right next to you, to think she is one of the best in the world. She has been playing professionally and that’s great, but the Olympics is all the best in the world.

“When the Olympics are going on, I’ll definitely be saying, ‘I used to set her in high school.’ ”

Murphy’s mother, Sandy, played volleyball at Illinois State and is a former coach at Wilmington. JCA coach Christine Scheibe talked with her early on about how she planned to use her daughter’s many talents.

“One of the most interesting things about Kelly is she was brought up setting No. 1,” Scheibe said. “Now she is hitting and blocking, doing it all. She was groomed all along for one position and now she is realizing so much success at the highest level.

“From the minute she walked in the gym, I knew she was special. She spent one day with the freshmen and then came up to the varsity. I had a conversation with her mom early on about how we planned to use her on the varsity level. Right away we knew the impact she could make on the team. She was different than most 14-15-year-olds.”

Murphy played setter, right-side hitter and outside hitter at Joliet Catholic, where she led the Angels to a 133-31 four-year record. They won four regional titles, three sectional crowns and finished fourth in 2005 and third in 2006 with Murphy dominating.

Individually, she ranks first at JCA in career service points (821), single-season aces (81) and career kills (1,417), second in career assists (1,199) and third in career blocks (172). In all, she is in the top 10 in nine of 12 categories.

To cap her Angels career, she was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior.

During her career at Florida, Murphy continued to be an all-around force. She was the AVCA Freshman of the Year, a second-team All-American as a sophomore and first team each of her last two seasons. She has played in numerous international competitions and professionally in Japan the last two years.

Just before being named to the Olympic team as an opposite, Murphy helped Team USA finish second at the FIVB World Grand Prix in Thailand. In the title match against two-time defending Olympic champion Brazil, she totaled seven kills, eight blocks and five digs.

“I definitely was not good enough to go to the Olympics myself, so the next-best thing is to have coached someone playing in the Olympics,” Scheibe said. “Having an Olympian shows the level of talent we are producing. We have had people who played in national championship games, in the WNBA and now the Olympics.”

It’s a shame Chicago did not win the bid for these Olympics.

“I knew from the very beginning that Kelly was going to play volleyball as long as possible,” Scheibe said. “This is a dream come true for her.

“That’s why we were rooting so hard four years ago for Chicago to get these Olympics. I had a feeling she would be playing in them.”

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