McKissock sisters help lead the way for The First Academy's volleyball team -- Observer Preps
Senior Matti McKissock and her sister Elli McKissock, a sophomore, have been a big part of the Royals' success the past three seasons.
| 10:00 p.m. September 21, 2017
Matti McKissock remembers coming to watch volleyball games at The First Academy, long before she ever put on a Royals uniform.
She came during her seventh-grade year, right around the time she had picked up the sport, and watched from the stands with a certain level of infatuation as the girls she idolized darted across the hardwood and leaped for a kill.
The Royals won the state championship that fall, in 2012, and Matti remembers admiring one player, in particular.
“The setter, Kali Funk, I think just watching her,” Matti said. “She left a big impression on me, and her leadership on the court was impeccable.”
Fast-forward five years and, instead of watching the senior setter for The First Academy from the stands, Matti is the senior setter for the Royals.
It is her fourth year with the program and her third with her younger sister, Elli McKissock, as a teammate.
Together, they were part of the team that won an FHSAA State Championship last fall — the program’s first since that 2012 team.
This fall, the Windermere residents are the starting setter and libero for the Royals, a team that refuses to accept the notion that it should rebuild after graduating several key members of the 2016 squad.
The sisters are leaders for the team at The First Academy (6-4), with Matti leading the team in kills (75) and blocks (16) while Elli is far-and-away the team’s best defender, with 151 digs to her credit.
And to think one of the sisters had to be poked and prodded to even give the sport a chance.
“I didn’t like it at first — my main sport was basketball, just because all my friends were playing it,” Elli said.
Volleyball certainly has worked out for Elli. In addition to her state championship ring, the sophomore has also committed to play in college for the Florida Gators. It is a bit of validation for something her older sister saw in her years ago, when the two were doing drills in the backyard.
“We forced her to play,” Matti said with smile. “I knew she was going to be really good. I just wanted her to try it, and she ended up loving it.”
Indeed, Elli’s abilities on the court —particularly on defense — led current head coach Dan Hedger to describe her as “naturally gifted.”
“I like getting after it, going for it — the feeling of getting a perfect dig when no one thinks you’re going to be able to get that ball,” Elli said.
Elli chose the Gators from a handful of offers that included other high-profile programs such as Texas, Washington, Clemson and Miami. Matti had been committed to Clemson previously but chose to de-commit after a coaching change there. She now holds offers from Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech.
Hedger is in his first year as the head coach for the Royals but has been an assistant with the program for three years. Over that time, he had developed an appreciation for the differences between the two girls. Matti has a more focused, process-driven approach to the game, while Elli plays a little more loosely, with an energy and free spirit about her.
“They both have very different personalities — the way they play the game, but they both share this joy in the game that I love about them,” Hedger said. “I love the way they approach the game.”
Hedger said although much of the attention last year during the state-title run understandably went to seniors such as Brynna Deluzio, currently a freshman outside hitter for the University of Colorado, he is not certain the Royals would have risen to the mountaintop without the strong play of the McKissock sisters.
“We wouldn’t have been to that level without them,” Hedger said.
And although the girls fondly remember that experience from last November, they are focused on the present and proving wrong those who have written off the Royals this fall.
“I definitely think we have a chip on our shoulder this year,” Matti said. “Everyone is kind of underestimating us this year, thinking that we’re not going to be as good as we were last year. … We have a lot to work for and we have our eyes on the prize.”
College careers at Division I programs may await the McKissock sisters, but for now they’re doing their best to cherish this last go-around as teammates for the Royals.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” Matti said.