Kellie, Taylr McNeil set to join forces this fall
The days that sisters Kellie and Taylr McNeil have spent playing volleyball together can be traced back years, to a volleyball net in a backyard over 1,200 miles away from USC.
It was volleyball that took the two sisters from that backyard in Eagan, Minnesota and brought them to Columbia, South Carolina.
And it was volleyball that turned them from sisters to teammates.
Kellie, a redshirt junior, initially enrolled at the University of Minnesota but decided to reopen her recruitment after her 2011 season. The Golden Gophers were in a transitional period after head coach Mike Hebert announced his retirement just weeks before Kellie stepped on campus.
After committing to Minnesota her sophomore year in high school, Taylr began to reconsider once Kellie announced her intention to transfer.
“It was actually kind of funny. We were both being recruited at the same time, and we were like ‘OK, we’re not going to talk about it,’” Taylr said. “So we talked through my mom, [and] she eventually sat us down and said, ‘Do you realize you’re thinking about the same school?’”
That school was the University of South Carolina.
Scott Swanson, South Carolina’s current head coach, recruited the sisters to play when he was a coach at Minnesota. Amidst the regime change at Minnesota, Swanson jumped ship to South Carolina, filling a coaching vacancy left by Ben Somera.
“They both decided [to] give me a call and it worked out that they both visited together,” Swanson said. “It was kind of a whole family affair, and I think the personal relationship that I already had with them and their family … helped.”
Kellie made an immediate impact last season, snagging the starting setter position from day one. She responded by averaging 10.17 assists per set and totaled 834 total assists, good enough for sixth in the SEC before a foot injury ended her season.
This year, she welcomes Taylr to the team, who is expected to contribute immediately at the outside hitter position as a true freshman.
‘CONNECTION ON THE COURT’
Taylr comes to South Carolina as a highly-decorated recruit after myriad accomplishments throughout her high school career. She won two state titles, including the 2010 3A State Championship she won with her sister in Kellie’s senior year. Both Kellie and Taylr were recognized as Gatorade Players of the Year in 2011 and 2013-2014, respectively.
“We have a connection on the court,” Kellie said. “It’s hard to describe, but when we’re practicing now, we’ll see glimpses of back when we played in high school.”
“We had one yesterday, actually,” Taylr added. “I got this kill and it was off a perfect set from her, and I was just like, ‘That reminded me of [the state championship].’”
‘A LITTLE PIECE OF HOME’
Even though the rest of the McNeil family still lives in a different time zone, they’ve made tentative plans to visit Kellie and Taylr throughout the season.
With her sister by her side to show her the ropes, Taylr has spent her time in Columbia getting acclimated to facing collegiate competition for the first time.
“The team has been really welcoming, and the coaches have been doing all that they can for me,” Taylr said.
And since Kellie is a team captain, Taylr feels like she’s getting even more guidance from her older sister.
“She’s always kind of been that for me, and kind of like my role model,” Taylr said. “Even in high school too, because she was always my captain in high school.”
But Kellie maintains that Taylr is not the only beneficiary of the two’s relationship at South Carolina, calling Taylr “a little piece of home.”
“I’m just the bigger sister,” Kellie said.
“Well…” Taylr said, noting the two-inch height advantage over her older sister.
“The littler big sister,” Kellie admitted.