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Illinois Pacesetter: Hard-working Celus sparks Annawan's success

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ANNAWAN — From the opening serve to the closing point, Kaylee Celus is a fixture on the floor for the Annawan High School volleyball team.

A three-year varsity starter for coach Gina Peterson, the 5-foot-11 junior setter/outside hitter helps to set the example for a Bravettes squad that is off to one of its best starts in quite some time.

In the wake of last Saturday's first-place finish at the Princeville Fall Classic tournament, Annawan has won 17 of its first 18 matches, including a 3-0 start to Lincoln Trail Conference play.

The hard work of Celus, this week's Illinois Pacesetter, has been a spark behind the Bravettes' success. In four wins at Princeville, she recorded 35 kills, 19 digs, 17 assists, nine service aces and three blocks to earn all-tournament honors.

"She's absolutely a six-rotation player for us, as well as one of our captains this year (alongside classmates Olivia Goodley and Lainy Manuel)," Peterson said. "Kaylee's kind of quiet, but she's become more vocal on the court, and she sets such a great example for the other kids.

"She's got a lot of court experience, and she continues to get stronger in each area of her game. Digging, setting, and definitely hitting."

Entering this week, Celus has tallied 166 kills, 76 digs, 60 assists, 35 aces and 13 blocks and has a serving percentage just over 90%. In the Bravettes' 6-2 offense, she shares the setting duties with sophomore Bella VanOpdorp.

Apart from the numbers, it is the sheer joy she takes in being out there with her friends and teammates for the entirety of every match that spurs on Celus.

"None of us want to come off the court," she said. "I love being out there with my teammates. We all stay together and cheer each other on."

Breaking into the Annawan starting rotation as a freshman in 2020, it was that kind of support that helped Celus find her feet and earn her place.

"I was definitely nervous at the beginning," she said. "I didn't want to mess anything up for the team. Now, with more time passing, I realize the team always has my back."

That kind of camaraderie has been equally instrumental in the Bravettes' hot start this fall, especially as this is a youth-laden club with no seniors on the roster.

"A lot of people think that veteran teams are better and that with us having no seniors this year, we wouldn't start out as strong as we have," Celus said. "I know I definitely thought this team was going to start out strong; we've got a lot of good players with plenty of experience.

"It is a bit of a surprise, how good we've been doing. We've got low numbers, but we have a lot of talent and we're working really well together."

The only blemish on Annawan's ledger thus far is a 25-21, 25-18 loss to Geneseo in the championship match of the Geneseo Invitational, where Celus earned the first of her two all-tournament team honors this season.

That loss came after a 10-0 start for the Bravettes, who have reeled off seven straight victories since then.

"Part of that is because during the month of June, these girls were working together on the basketball court, and right after that they came together for summer volleyball," Peterson said. "This group has such great chemistry and camaraderie."

In addition to her natural athletic ability as a three-sport athlete who also shines in basketball and track & field, Celus carries a last name that has long been synonymous with Annawan athletic excellence.

Her father is Jason Celus, a star in football, basketball and track for the Braves in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Her uncle Jon Celus also enjoyed a successful career in the early '90s, and her mother Tammy is the varsity assistant and head JV volleyball coach.

"People don't try to match me up with what dad did, they just let me play,"  Kaylee said. "Now and then, after I do something, jump really high, I'll hear someone in the crowd say that they remember watching my dad jump that high."

Right now, Celus is focused on helping Annawan volleyball make the jump to elite status as she is aiming to help her squad blaze new trails. That includes bringing home the program's first conference title since 2002.

"We're hoping to go all the way, starting with winning the LTC," she said. "We really want to go to state this season and accomplish a lot."


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