Boys volleyball: Palatine's McLennan was an impact player
It's the equivalent of a bone-crunching tackle, the kind that can be heard all the way up in the stands.
A hit in volleyball that fires off like a bullet and slams directly into the floor, or heaven forbid, ricochets directly off an opponent is the ultimate statement. It gets everyone's attention.
"It just gives you a huge rush," Palatine outside hitter Curtis McLennan said. "It's the ultimate goal to get hits like that. The visceral feeling you get is just awesome."
McLennan has had some hits like that over his career at Palatine, where he has been a four-year starter. In fact, he believes his most recent "bone-crusher" was an omen of sorts.
"My very first hit of this season, in our first match against Maine West, I hit someone in the face," McLennan said. "It sounds terrible, and you kind of feel bad, but in that moment, it's just totally awesome.
"That hit, I think it kind of set the tone for me this year. When it happened, I was like, 'OK, it's going to be a good year.'"
It certainly has been.
McLennan has been the best player on one of the best teams in the Northwest suburbs. Palatine, 33-4, has had its best season in years and played for a sectional championship on Tuesday.
When the Pirates needed a big play this season, a statement play, it was McLennan, the Daily Herald's Northwest Suburbs All-Area Team Captain, who could give it to them.
"He is the heart and soul of our team, and possesses qualities that you simply can't teach," Palatine coach Pete Gavin said. "If you've ever watched Curtis play, you know that the only aspect of his game that exceeds his effort is his passion."
Despite struggling with a shoulder injury for most of the season, McLennan had nearly 300 kills, and more than 800 for his career, tops in program history. He also racked up 32 blocks, 34 aces and 166 digs.
Gavin has said that no other player in the history of the program has ever single-handedly impacted a volleyball season or match like McLennan has during his senior season.
McLennan certainly has been a focal point, but he is also quick to point out that Palatine's success this season hasn't been a one-man show.
"I'd like to think I do make an impact," McLennan said. "But volleyball is such a team game, and it's hard to point to just one person. I wouldn't be nearly as good without my teammates, especially my setter, Ben (Rinella)."
There is an undeniable chemistry between McLennan and Rinella. The two seniors have played not only through high school together but also as grade schoolers.
Rinella's mom organized a club volleyball team for the boys and their friends in fourth or fifth grade and a core of them have played together ever since.
"Some of us have played together for eight years now," McLennan said. "It's special to have played with your friends for so long. We have that chemistry that I think has really helped to make us successful."
In addition to good teammates, McLennan says that good genes and hard work in the weight room has helped his game.
There is a picture of McLennan as a young toddler being held in the arms of his father, Troy. Troy McLennan had a volleyball in the other hand.
"My dad was really big into volleyball and he kind of pushed me toward it. As soon as I tried it, I thought it was really fun," McLennan said. "My dad played club in college at Wheaton College and then in some leagues through church. He taught me the fundamentals and he taught me to understand the game from behind the scenes.
"I think I'm also able to jump high because of my dad. My dad jumps high."
At 6-foot-3, McLennan already has a long reach. But with a vertical in the 40-inch range, his jumping ability gives him even more of an advantage at the net.
"I've been lucky to have genes that help me jump really high. It's a big advantage," said McLennan, who is blessed with good genes, but also works in the weight room doing exercises that will increase his vertical even more. "A lot of times, I'm just able to hit it over everyone else. When you are able to out-jump others, it gives you more area to work with and more court vision and I can see the open spots better and that's where I try to put the ball."
Smart move, by a smart player.
McLennan is also a star in the classroom. He's got a 4.9 grade-point average with five advanced placement classes. He will be attending his dad's alma mater, Wheaton College, next year and major in physics and mathematics.
In his free time, McLennan is planning to relaunch the school's club volleyball team, which disbanded recently.
"I would love to play in college," McLennan said. "Volleyball is just so rewarding. It's so fun to play, and when you put in a lot of effort, you can really see the payoff."