It's not unusual to hear singing coming from the locker room before a Burlington Central girls volleyball match.
Game days often include the impromptu song stylings of record-setting libero Allie O'Reilly, who keeps her teammates loose by loosening up her vocal chords.
"I'm like the warm-up singer," a smiling O'Reilly said Tuesday after she made 18 digs in a sweep of Rockford Christian. "I sing a lot. Ask anyone. And I'm a dancer. Everyone thinks I'm a wacko, but I'm just pretty outgoing."
"She's the crazy one," Central co-captain Lauren Wiltsie confirmed. "She comes up with all these fun ideas. She says 'Let's do this,' and we all do it. She's just so much fun. I love that girl."
Fun. Carefree. Outgoing. All accurately describe Central's two-year captain. Right up until the first serve of a match, that is. Then the 5-foot-4 senior is all business.
Trained at Club Fusion since the age of 12, O'Reilly has relied on her quickness, instincts and training to successfully defend Central's varsity court for four seasons. As a junior last fall she was named all-Big Northern Conference East and all-area after she broke Central's single-season digs record. Her total of 578 shattered the previous mark of 449, set by Sam Bohne in 2011.
"It's great to have her back there knowing that she's going to get the job done and it's going to be good," Central middle hitter Makenna Jensen said. "Some of the digs she made in our game against Richmond-Burton were crazy good."
A 17-year-old Elgin resident, O'Reilly is at her best against top-caliber competition. She finished with 29 digs when Central defeated Richmond-Burton and Penn State-bound hitter Ali Frantti in a 3-set, BNC East matchup on Sept. 24. She made 22 digs on Saturday as the Rockets swept Frantti and R-B to win the Hampshire Tournament.
"The thing about O'Reilly is she doesn't give an inch," Central coach Marv Leavitt said. "She wants that hard hit going against her. She's just fearless out there. I'm not saying she'll dig it every time against someone like Frantti, but she's in there competing and I think that's contagious for our team.
"She has wonderful anticipation and she's quick. She just has great court vision and understanding of the game. If you weren't quick, you wouldn't be able to do that. She is a good athlete. You have to be a good athlete to do what she has done."
O'Reilly, whose older sister Kaitlyn (SIU-Edwardsville) also captained the Rockets for two seasons, reached another milestone last weekend when she accounted for 65 digs in 5 victories at Hampshire. In the process she surpassed Bohne's school record of 1,173 career digs with 11 regular-season matches remaining.
"It's cool," she said of owning the single-season and career digs records. "I wanted to leave a mark and it's a positive one. It's a cool experience and I'm just happy I can share it with this team. They are very supportive and a great group of girls."
The same gift of gab that helps O'Reilly make her teammates laugh also makes them better players. The definitive on-court leader of the Rockets stays in constant verbal communication with her hitters throughout a point, relating whatever her experienced eyes notice during split-second scans of the defense. If O'Reilly bump-sets the ball to one of her hitters, count on her to instruct that hitter where best to place the ball to avoid the block.
"I try to glance to the other side of the net as fast as possible," she said. "Since they're obviously looking at the ball, I try to see what's open and try to help them out by being another brain for them. We want to get as many points as we can, so let's find what's open. Hopefully, we hit it there and we score."
"Reading is probably the best thing that she does," said Leavitt, who added that O'Reilly would make a good coach someday. "She reads the approach of the hitters, reads what's happening on the other side. It's fun to watch. Even in practice she's continuously being that leader on the court. She's continuously talking, communicating with her teammates."
Her fellow Rockets have come to trust O'Reilly's advice.
"She tells me where to hit and I hit because Allie knows what's going on," Wiltsie said. "She knows the plays inside out and she knows where the setter is. And her serves are placed really well. She's just a really good all-around player."
Colleges agree. O'Reilly recently received an offer from Illinois-Chicago. She also has strong interest from Kent State and Wisconsin-Green Bay, among others.
Her college decision will be finalized in due time. For now, O'Reilly and the Rockets have their sites set on winning a BNC-East title. Through Tuesday Central led the division with a 7-0 record. Overall, the Rockets are 18-7 overall following 7 straight victories.
Much of that success has been due to the reliability of O'Reilly and her same old song and dance.