Crystal Lake Central's Megan Kelly and Emily Kelly have played on the same club and high school volleyball teams for eight years.
After celebrating their National Letter of Intent signings Thursday at Central in front of friends and family, the twin sisters already are looking for ways to play on the same court one more time next season.
Megan Kelly, the 2017 Northwest Herald Girls Volleyball Player of the Year, made her commitment to NCAA Division I Akron of the Mid-American Conference official; Emily signed with D-I Illinois-Chicago of the Horizon League.
"We've already talked to our coaches about scheduling a game against each other," Emily said. "It's definitely going to be weird next season (not playing together), but I think we're both ready."
Emily went on an official visit to UIC in February with her mother, Diane, and committed to Flames coach Justin Ingram at the same time Megan was in flight to Akron, Ohio, with her father, John.
Megan found out about Emily's commitment via text message from her sister when her plane landed. Megan committed to the Zips later that weekend.
"I was like, ‘Yeah ... that sounds like something that would happen to us,'" Megan said. "I feel like we’ve always been competitive with each other because it's just kind of natural. I feel like it might help us each ease up a little, not to have that constant comparison."
Megan and Emily both were key starters on Central's Class 4A state third-place team that beat St. Charles North at state and were 34-4 – claiming the Fox Valley Conference title at 15-1.
Emily led the Tigers with nine kills in the state third-place match, while Megan provided the match-clinching block. Central claimed its first Class 4A sectional and supersectional titles.
Both were named to the Northwest Herald All-Area first team last fall. Megan played three positions each match (setter, middle blocker and right-side hitter) and led all area players with 121 blocks, also recording 348 assists, 189 kills and 282 digs.
Emily, an outsider hitter, was first on Central with 37 aces, second with 202 kills and added 53 blocks at the net.
Both Megan and Emily were patient in the recruiting process, each waiting for the right school that fulfilled their academic needs first. Megan will major in biomedical engineering; Emily will major in biology on a pre-med track.
Megan had Akron high on her list and was ready to go even if it didn't mean continuing her volleyball career. She emailed Zips coach Tom Hanna about possibly joining the team, and Hanna sent an assistant coach to watch her play on her club team, Sky High Volleyball.
There was an instant match.
"I fell in love with the biomedical engineering building and all of the facilities," Megan said. "The whole coaching staff is amazing. They built their program on accountability and the team aspect, rather than the actual skill part, which I was a really big fan of. The whole team loves each other, and it’s a super awesome atmosphere to be in."
"Ever since I was little, it was a dream of mine to play college volleyball, but I kind of hit a road block last year with it. I kept changing my mind sophomore and junior year. When they offered, I almost started crying."
Emily said the coaching staff at UIC really helped sway her final decision. Ingram ended his first year with the Flames with a 17-13 record – and 8-8 in the Horizon League – after compiling a 101-59 record in five seasons at Southern Illinois, where he was named 2015 Missouri Valley Coach of the Year.
"He completely turned [Southern Illinois] around and had a huge winning record," Emily said. "He’s a very personable guy, which I love, and he kind of has the same goals in mind that I do. They’re a very young team, so it's exciting we kind of get to start over and build a program for these coaches."
"Once I went there, I fell in love with the campus, and I absolutely adore the coaches. It just seemed right in the moment because I knew how good of a school it was, and how good of a program they're building."
Megan said what she'll miss most about Central are her teammates and the atmosphere that Tigers coach Lisa Brunstrum helped create.
"Throughout my four years, I always wanted to be there," Megan said. "And I always wanted to get better."
Emily said what she'll remember most is being thrust into the role of a team leader and embracing the role.
"Coming in as a freshman, there was a huge [sense of pride] around Tigers volleyball and how big of a deal it was," Emily said. "Our seniors showed that, but it wasn’t until I became a leader on that team when I really knew what that meant."