AUGUSTA, Ill. -- It sounds odd to hear Southeastern volleyball coach Tim Kerr suggest middle hitter Kolby McClelland might be a better defensive player in college, especially when considering the career offensive numbers she accumulated.
Kerr has his reasons.
"Great passes in volleyball don't get put on the highlight reel, and they don't show up too much in the stats column," he said. "But you can count on Kolby for a great pass almost every time.
"Some kids have a knack for keeping the ball in play. She really does have that. Her instincts are great."
Kerr compares it favorably to how Michael Jordan played the game.
"Jordan had so many NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors, but how many would call him a great defensive player?" Kerr said. "People who know the game noticed that, but people who don't know the game just knew him for his offense and the dunks and things like that.
"I consider that a similarity with her. People who don't know the game of volleyball don't see how great she is at things other than hitting."
McClelland is one of the best there has ever been on the attack.
The 2016 Herald-Whig Player of the Year finished her four-year career second on the state's list of career kills leaders with more than 1,700. She was the focal point of Southeastern's offense during a four-year stretch in which the Lady Suns won 30 or more matches each season, And she became the player every opposing defense tried to limit or contain in some fashion.
That wasn't easy because of everything McClelland did on the back row, not the front.
"Some of the great offensive players in volleyball, you try to hide them and not have them take the first touch," Kerr said. "In her case, it's like, 'Please serve it to Kolby.' I know we're going to get a great pass and it would lead to a great attack.
"She was great at starting a play with a pass and finishing it with a kill. That was always fun to see develop."
The development of her game is going to continue.
"I wouldn't be terribly surprised if she plays more back row than she does front row at the next level," Kerr said. "She's that good at it."
Ready for the next level
A few matters must be attended to before McClelland wraps up her high school athletic career, namely trying to help the Central-Southeastern girls basketball team return to the Class 2A state tournament.
While that is taking place, McClelland's heart is in Murray, Ky., home of the Murray State University campus which she will call home after signing to play for the Racers.
"Anytime I go down there to visit, I just want to stay there," McClelland said. "I tell my mom, 'Just leave me here, please.'"
She's already developed a relationship with her future teammates, which makes following the Racers' run to the NCAA Tournament all the more enjoyable. Murray State carried a 15-match winning streak into Friday's NCAA Tournament opener against 10th-ranked UCLA in legendary Pauley Pavilion.
"I'm getting a bunch of cool Snaps from L.A.," McClelland said.
This is Murray State's second NCAA Tournament appearance in the past three seasons, giving McClelland something to look forward to.
"That would be a cool experience," she said. "It would be awesome to be at that level."
Yet playing college volleyball wasn't originally the avenue she intended to pursue. She saw herself playing in the WNBA.
"When I was in fifth and sixth grade, I was going to be this big basketball player," McClelland said. "Over time, my thoughts shifted and I decided I liked volleyball a lot better."
By her junior year, she knew volleyball would pave her way to college.
After leading the area in hitting percentage at .420 as a freshman and earning all-state honorable mention as a sophomore when she had 425 kills, 162 blocks and 203 digs, McClelland had a number of NCAA Division I programs recruiting her, cementing the idea was her future.
"Murray State offered, and that was all I needed," McClelland said. "I was ready to go."
One of the best
McClelland had her college plans figured out before her senior season began, which allowed her to enjoy the final go-around without the pressure to impress recruiters.
Kerr tried to coach with the same ease, not wanting McClelland's career to pass without appreciating the talent and drive she brought to the floor.
"Sometimes, coaches will say, five years down the road, something like, 'Man, I really should have enjoyed it more because that was a special situation,'" Kerr said. "I felt like I did a good job of enjoying the ride.
"There have been so many times, maybe in practice more than in matches, where you see her do something and you go, 'Wow.'"
When those moments happened, Kerr soaked them in.
"There were times duing a match I would turn to my assistant and say, 'Hey, we're pretty good,'" Kerr said. "I probably did that 10 or 15 or 20 times throughout the year. You recognize what you had."
He was blessed to be coaching one of the best ever.
Hannah Werth, who played at Chatham Glenwood from 2005-08, set the IHSA career kills record with 2,022 before an All-American career at Nebraska. McClelland never expected to challenge that mark, but she steadily surpassed everyone else on the list to finish with 1,700 career kills.
Only six others in state history have 1,600 or more kills.
"Our kids would turn their back in practice when she'd go up to swing," Kerr said. "They knew she was going to pound the ball."
The ability to overpower blockers helped earn McClelland state-wide accolades and a college scholarship. Yet, it's her all-around game that Kerr believes is going to help her rise above all others at the next level.
"When we're running through drills, she's just as anxious to get in the back row to work on serve receive as she is to get in the front row and work on hitting," Kerr said. "She takes a lot of pride in being an all-around player."
To hear someone complement her defense is both humbling and inspiring.
"I'm very honored by that," McClelland said. "The whole game starts with the pass. It goes from the pass to the set and then to the kill. I don't think a lot of defensive players get as much credit as they should.
"It's a huge thing for someone to say about me. Everybody sees me as offense, offense, offense. I take someone saying such nice things about my defense as a huge compliment."