Peg Kopec is going for her ninth state volleyball title at St. Francis this weekend, but she had another number on her mind Thursday.
Six. As in Kopec's current Spartans have six sisters who have older sisters who played for Kopec. Or, in the case of the Haggertys, have a sister on the team.
Even for a program steeped in tradition like St. Francis, that's a lot of familial love.
"I like to think that St. Francis volleyball is a very tight community," said Kopec, now in her 38th year. "There's a bond there."
McKenna Kelsay, Mary Boken, Sam Dubiel, Natalie Murison and just-called-up sophomore Anna Melka all had sisters play at St. Francis before them. Melka's older sister Shannon played for Kopec's 1997 state championship team.
Kelsay is the second of three sisters to come through the program. Her older sister Kristen, also a setter, is now at Michigan State.
"Kristen, she's my role model," McKenna said. "It's cool to have someone older than me that has gone through what I'm going through, to share that experience."
The connection doesn't break when the volleyball days are over.
Kopec has had at least 15 ex-players come back to coach under her. A Facebook page has been set up to share news like a marriage or new baby. For the second time this year, St. Francis hosted an alumni night. Kopec hosts an open house around Christmas for ex-players in college.
The girls frequently get letters throughout the season from ex-players wishing them good luck, especially come playoff time.
"I don't know how many programs have that," Kelsay said. "We hear from people that played so long ago, people who are parents who live in completely different states. It's great to hear that people are rooting for you."
This particular team has been through a lot, from tragedy to injuries to numerous lineup changes.
It has also grown closer, and not just on the volleyball court. Bonds have been created through sleepovers to Halloween hay rides to tying ribbons on a tree outside school after each playoff win.
"This is a really nice team," Kopec said. "I never complain about any team, but this is a particularly nice team. They get along real well and there are a lot of really nice human beings on this team. I'm happy for them to have this memory of a lifetime."
"The way we've grown, it's amazing," Kelsay said. "It's great to see what a team can do to come together. What we accomplished, it's not about one person."
McKenna's sister won't be able to make it to Redbird Arena, but she did text McKenna some helpful advice.
"She said to soak it all in, to have some fun," McKenna said. "It's good to have that advice. She gives me constant support and love."
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