NORMAL — Once Alayna Crabtree opened the eyes of volleyball recruiters, the University High School senior-to-be saw Boston College as the perfect place to continue her career.
"She really came on and really opened some eyes at the end of last club season (in June of 2018)," said Andy Erins, director of the Bloomington-based Illini Elite Volleyball Club where Crabtree has trained since fourth grade.
"She really kind of came into her own and was hitting the ball hard and playing all the way around. She was doing so many good things and Boston College really, really liked her."
A 6-foot-2 outside hitter who can jump and touch 9 feet, 8 inches high, Crabtree will sign a national letter of intent with the Eagles in November. She joins a program that went 15-15 overall and 3-12 in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season.
"She's going to be able to compete at a high level in that conference," said U High coach Mike Bolhuis. "I think it's a great fit for her."
Crabtree earned Pantagraph All-Area first-team honors last fall after averaging 3.7 kills per game for a 29-8 U High squad that reached the Class 3A Sweet Sixteen. She also received all-Central State Eight Conference honors for the Intercity champion Pioneers. The journey to such accolades began in the spring of 2018.
"It was like light bulbs went off and everything clicked," Erins said. "She just had a phenomenal national tournament and then, all of a sudden, there were several schools that were magically interested in her."
Crabtree will be a six-rotation player for Boston College where Erins envisions her being one of two types of outside hitter on the left side: the first being a terminator and the second being more of a ball-control type of player.
"Her back row skills are going to continue to get better," he said. "She's a fantastic kid, but she's super quiet. She is super reserved. Alayna is as stoic as they come."
The plus side of Crabtree's demeanor is that her emotions never get too high nor too low.
"She said it came from golf," Erins said. "She was a golfer before she played volleyball. You learn when you play golf, if you hit a bad shot, it's not going to do any good to throw your club and be mad. It's just going to be affecting the next shot."
Bolhuis agrees Crabtree is "not always the most outspoken individual, but she's always working hard. She's extremely coachable. You tell her to do something, she's going to acknowledge that you want her to make a change and she's going to work her butt off to make that happen."
A year ago, Crabtree attended a Boston College volleyball camp and quickly bonded with the Eagles.
"I loved all the coaching staff," she said. "They are all so nice. I got to meet all the players I'll be playing with and I just love all of them. I just think it's a really good environment."
Crabtree's love affair with volleyball stems from the way the sport forces players to depend on each other.
"I just love that you can rely on your teammates so much," said Crabtree, who believes a key to her growth was mastering the art of digging.
"It just takes a lot of practice and reps. I'm just thankful that I've had such good coaches at Illini Elite and U High, and such great teammates to push me to be better."
Crabtree is part of an athletic family. Her parents, Bryan and Jenna, both played basketball at Illinois Wesleyan. Bryan Crabtree was the 1997 NCAA Division III national player of the year.
"When I was younger, my dad coached a lot of my sports teams and that helped me a lot," said Alayna Crabtree, who has two sports-minded younger sisters in Adriana and Ava.