Sometimes when Ali Frantti was in the midst of a spike approach, Richmond-Burton’s girls volleyball players would just look to the other side of the net. It was nearly as much fun to watch opponents’ reactions to the 6-foot-2 outside hitter’s vicious kills as it was to watch Frantti set up to hit them.
Even in volleyball-rich McHenry County, it is rare to have a player who dazzles her own teammates as much as she does opponents. And Frantti’s game seemed to have a different dimension each time she stepped on the court. Her precision and diligence never ceased to amaze her teammates, and no matter how many times opposing coaches faced her, no one really could minimize her.
“I’ve never seen one player have more of an effect on a team,” Marian Central coach Laura Watling said. “I’ve never seen a player take that many swings every single night and be that successful. She’s amazing.”
Having been named the No. 2 player in the nation at the start the season, Frantti rolled up her final varsity campaign with 603 kills, 40 blocks, 270 digs and 99 aces. She led a young and largely inexperienced R-B team to a share of its second straight Big Northern Conference East Division crown, and she learned to lead through words as much as she always had through her actions.
For her dynamic performances, her all-around dominance and her ability make a rebuilding team a contender, Frantti is the 2013 Northwest Herald Volleyball Player of the Year as determined by the sports staff with input from area coaches.
Frantti also won the award in 2012 after leading R-B to a second-place finish in the Class 3A state finals.
“This year, we were a completely new team,” Frantti said. “The key for me was to step in and be that leader the team needed. I think the last couple years I was the player who led by action and I didn’t really speak that much. I think it helped to prepare me for college especially, and it kind of gave me some confidence. I was really happy that happened.”
Watching Frantti became something of a hobby to those who played around her, even more so perhaps than for those who came to the Rockets’ matches. And being watched was something Frantti became comfortable with. For the first three years of her tenure at R-B, Frantti smacked the ball, the crowd cheered and her teammates picked up little nuances about the game the way players do when they share a roster with a star.
Knowing this year she needed to speak, Frantti applied what she always had done on the court: she evaluated the situation, adjusted and went after it.
The result? Frantti became the kind of player who made those around her better.
“I think it was hard for Ali at first to be comfortable speaking up and being assertive (without) feeling like she was being aggressive,” said assistant coach Laura Karamitos at a tournament in October.
“I think it was hard at first for her to understand that being assertive with your players just means you’re trying to help them out,” Karamitos continued. “That’s one thing (R-B head coach Kaycee) Kaywood has always said. You have to make your teammates better. Ali does that.”
R-B setter Kelsey Burlini realized this quickly this season. Burlini was an outside hitter and a middle hitter for the Rockets before trying her hand at setting during a team camp last summer. She then assumed the role of being the Rockets’ floor general – a role that came with the requirement to set one of the best outside hitters in the country.
“Even if my sets aren’t always there, Ali can always hit the ball,” Burlini said. “She plays smart with it and I think the trust between us helps on the court, too. I love playing with her. Who wouldn’t love playing with her?”
Frantti signed her national letter of intent with NCAA volleyball powerhouse Penn State in November and will graduate high school early to join the Nittany Lions in January. She will leave regarded by many as one of the best outside hitters ever to come out of McHenry County.
That’s not a tag Frantti necessarily wants to wear, though. She’d prefer to give the kudos to her teammates, who she saw grow exponentially during the season.
“This year will always be really special to me,” Frantti said. “My senior year, to play with these girls, that was such an honor.”