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home : sports : wilmington March 29, 2017

2/21/2017 4:44:00 PM
Champions meet a champion
St. Rose volleyball team honors Olympic medalist Kelly Murphy
Eric Fisher

It's been 15 years since Kelly Murphy fired her potent jump serve as a Lady Tiger on the St. Rose School volleyball team. Yet, the Olympic medalist felt right at home Wednesday when she returned to the gym where it all started.

"It feels really good. It doesn't seem like it's been that long ago when I think about it, but I know it has been a while," commented the U.S. team bronze medal winner. "It's always good to come back and know that the people here support me wherever I am."

That support was evident last week among students and staff at St. Rose who were eager to unveil two new banners.

The first recognizes the St. Rose junior varsity volleyball team who won the South Suburban Catholic Conference championship. The other honors Murphy's Olympic achievement, andnotes that St. Rose is the home for this alumna.

"It is humbling coming home and having students at St. Rose who look up to me. Just walking in the door, there was a group of kids lining up and they say, 'Oh, it's Kelly.' It's weird for me to hear because I'm not used to it. But it's a cool feeling to know that they think it's cool to see me."

Murphy made it a special day for students by congratulating the girls volleyball team and encouraging them to study hard and do their best to be a team player.

"I want you to know that I played here and for you to believe that it's possible for you to do it too," Murphy said.

Kelly, the daughter of Sandy and Scott Murphy of Wilmington, was home for the week, a break from playing professional volleyball in China. Even though it's half a globe away, the China league is keeping her in shape until the next Olympic trials.

"The U.S. doesn't have a pro league, so we have to go to different countries to play. China is one of the top leagues and I got an offer from there so I took it," Murphy noted.

She wishes there was a professional league in her country but with so many other pro leagues for baseball, football, basketball, soccer and hockey, a volleyball league couldn't compete.

"Volleyball is really popular all over the world so the leagues just stay in other countries," she said.

Traveling and playing in China comes with its challenges for this 27-year-old.

"There are a lot of differences obviously, but you learn a lot and I've grown as a person. They try to help us out as much as possible with translating the language. I have another American teammate who helps a lot, so we try to interact with the Chinese people as best we can."

Does that mean she's achieved celebrity status in the Communist country?

"More so here in the U.S., especially closest to my home town," Murphy said. "It's just good to see a lot of familiar faces."

Too, she's gotten faster at giving her autograph. Like all fans, the people of China appreciate it when she stops for a signing. "But really it's not as many as you would think. If I'm back home there's more people that recognize me, and want an autograph. With the USA stuff, we'll have events where we'll have to sign a bunch so I can do it pretty quickly. I can't imagine being in the NBA or NFL and how much they have to interact with the public."

The 2007 Gatorade National High School Player of the Year and three-time college All American intends to stay busy playing in China until the season concludes in late spring. She'll return home for a week before summer training in California with the national women's team.

Her hope is the core group that won the bronze in Rio in 2016 will be with her in 2020 when the Summer Olympics are held in Tokyo.

"I'm just staying in the mix hoping that I can be competitive, stay healthy the next four years and hopefully just continue to build on what I've been doing with my time," Murphy said.

"I'm always in season so I'm always practicing and I keep in touch with my strength coach and I do those workouts whenever I can. You have to stay active at this level. You can't let yourself get too comfortable.

It's been a really fun ride. I'll just see how long that feeling lasts."

The staff and students at St. Rose are hoping it lasts a long time.

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