NORMAL — Who will Mallory Leggett be next?
At the moment, she’s an Illinois State volleyball player who can smell the end of her career coming and it stinks.
“I’ve been playing volleyball for 13, 14 years and that’s all I’ve done,” said the 22-year-old from Maroa.
“I’ve always classified myself as a volleyball player and it’s just going to be weird for it to end. It’s not going to be very fun.”
Leggett will try to delay retirement by helping No. 5-seeded ISU (18-13) knock off No. 4 Missouri State (21-8) at 8 p.m. today in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament at the McLeod Center in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The Bears split with ISU during the regular season with each team winning 3-0 at home. Missouri State will be facing one the Redbirds’ all-time greats in Leggett.
The 6-foot-1 outside hitter ranks third in ISU history for career digs (1,394), fifth in kills (1,496) and sixth in points (1,750.5).
Leggett was a first-team all-MVC pick last year and Coach Melissa Myers believes Leggett should repeat this year.
“She has an all-around complete game and that is really going to be a void we’re going to have to fill next year,” Myers said. “For four years, she has been a staple on the outside for us.”
Leggett has been a six-rotation staple, who passes so well she could play libero if needed. She has hit a career-best .193 this season, but that would be much higher if she wasn’t asked to also attack from the back row.
“The back row offense, it’s just a little bit more difficult to score from that spot,” said Myers, whose star has scored as a server, ranking second in the Valley with 0.39 aces per set.
But stats don’t capture all Leggett has meant to ISU.
“I think a lot of people on the team look up to her as a leader,” said junior setter Kristin Stauter.
Leaders tend not to complain about hard work or tough luck. Leggett has had a painful foot injury called planters fascittis for several weeks. Somehow she has played without a limp or a dip in performance.
“My foot really hurts, but I just have to suck it up and go,” said Leggett, a product of the Bloomington-based Illini Elite Volleyball Club.
“I’m going to miss Mallory a lot,” Myers said. “Every year that we’ve been with her, she’s really matured. She’s really grown.
“Some of the things she has said and done in huddles and in practices and team meetings this year, we’ve not heard before. It’s one of those things where you really wish you could have more time with a player like that.”
But time is running out.
If ISU wins today, it would face top-seeded and No. 11-nationally ranked Northern Iowa (28-2) in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday. The Panthers have won 20 straight at home and 36 straight MVC matches.
“I would love to be the team that upsets them,” said Leggett, a public relations major contemplating grad school.
She already knows her life after ISU will include playing sand volleyball recreationally with her sister. It’s what you do when you classify yourself as a volleyball player.
AT CEDAR FALLS, IOWA
Match 1 — No. 3 Creighton (18-10) vs. No. 6 Drake (23-10), 6 p.m.
Match 2 — No. 4 Missouri State (21-8) vs. No. 5 Illinois State (18-13), 8 p.m.
Match 3 — No. 2 Wichita State (21-6) vs. Winner Match 1, 5 p.m.
Match 4 — No. 1 Northern Iowa (28-2) vs. Winner Match 2, 7 p.m.
Match 5 — Championship, 3:37 p.m.