JOLIET – Electricity filled the air.
It was party time Thursday evening in the Joliet Catholic Academy Student Activity Center.
The ceremony between the sophomore and varsity volleyball games between the Angels and Hinsdale South honored JCA’s favorite daughter, Olympic bronze medalist Kelly Murphy.
With the medal draped around her neck, Murphy listened to the accolades from her adoring fans here at home. She watched as current JCA players unveiled a banner made especially for her.
She posed for pictures. The Angels’ varsity and sophomore squads “said cheese” with her, followed by the Hinsdale South varsity and underclassmen. Then the JCA coaching staff.
A couple members of the Hill Zone cheering section walked to the scorer’s table, where Murphy was standing. They wanted to be able to tell their friends – and their kids and grandkids some day – that they said hello to Kelly Murphy, and she said hi in return.
“It feels great to be here,” said Murphy, a 2008 JCA graduate who was Gatorade National High School Player of the Year as a senior. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been back here.
“It’s been great to see all the people in my home town of Wilmington, in Joliet and here at JCA. I loved playing here. Some of my best experiences in volleyball were here. It’s great to see the Hill Zone is just as rowdy as ever.”
Murphy said she is grateful that she has had the opportunity to bring some excitement to the current Angels and leave a positive legacy at the school.
“It’s kind of weird for me to come in and have people so excited,” she said.
“We’re all very excited,” said Murphy’s mom, Sandy, who played college volleyball at Illinois State, coached in Wilmington and in club ball around the Joliet area and teaches at Wesmere Elementary School in Plainfield. “We’re very blessed for Kelly to receive this honor tonight. It’s very nice to have this opportunity.”
The Murphy family was at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro to cheer on Kelly and the U.S. That included Sandy, dad Scott and sisters Jennifer and Mary, both of whom also were volleyball standouts at JCA. Jennifer, in fact, was the only Murphy to win a state championship under Angels coach Christine Scheibe, and she won two of them.
“I still can’t wrap my head around being at the Olympics, seeing all those athletes perform at that level, and my sister is one of them,” Jennifer said. “Words can’t describe what it was like down there. Volleyball is the No. 2 sport in Brazil, and the crowd at every game was crazier than any I had ever seen. Everybody was cheering for everybody.”
“It was an unbelievable reason for us to go to Rio,” Sandy said. “There are beautiful beaches there, it was wonderful, especially to be there under the umbrella of the Olympics.”
Kelly called the Olympic experience and winning a bronze medal “life changing. From the time you start playing volleyball, you dream of the Olympics, but it still does not feel real. Then to be able to share it with family and friends, that made it so much better.”
The closeness of the U.S. team and their families made the setting perfect.
“I wasn’t nervous when Kelly was out there,” Scott Murphy said. “I’m always real confident because she always has been that way. And what really made the experience was that she played with a good group of girls from good families. Most of us stayed together on the cruise ship.
“The team did their country proud. Even in the (semifinal) loss to Serbia, they overcame a key injury and almost won. To me, that was a highlight.”
U.S. coach Karch Kiraly also earned Scott Murphy’s admiration.
“After the loss to Serbia, he was hurting, of course,” he said. “But he came out and addressed the parents and told us how much he appreciated the families. I thought that was classy.”
Not done yet
Current JCA senior volleyball player Sheridan Kelly said Mary Murphy, who graduated n 2014 and is a sophomore setter at Western Michigan, sometimes talked about her sister to the other Angels in Scheibe’s program.
“It was an inspiration for us to play with Mary and learn about Kelly’s enthusiasm for being an Angel, what that means in terms of putting it all on the court every time out there,” she said.
Kelly Murphy never lost that drive.
“After we lost to Serbia, we talked about not getting to accomplish what we wanted,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it was all about pride, beating Netherlands and getting the medal. I was really proud of how our team fought for every point all the way through.
“It was an amazing experience. Rio and USA volleyball did a real good job. Everything was just awesome.”
And there is more to come. Murphy, 26, will be leaving shortly to begin a professional season in China, and she will continue on with the U.S. national team.
Another Olympic Games in her future? “I hope so,” she smiled.
The JCA volleyball community and her family will be ready to rock with her.