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Aaliyah Callaway, MacArthur
VOLLEYBALL HAS TAUGHT MACARTHUR SENIOR HITTER AALIYAH CALLAWAY A LOT. BUT MORE THAN ANYTHING, IT HAS TAUGHT HER ABOUT HERSELF.
"To not think of myself as more than I really am," Callaway said. "I used to be not as confident about (volleyball). It would weigh down on me. When I played, I'd compare myself to others. But it taught me to just play as who I am and taught me to level up."
She has leveled up, and then some.
Callaway was a standout attacker for a strong Generals club last season, compiling 183 kills, 26 blocks and 20 aces. She had a .319 hitting percentage and .491 kill percentage.
So, yeah, she's no longer the young child who couldn't get the hang of a proper swing early on.
Callaway's oldest memory of playing volleyball goes all the way back to middle school.
"It was my first time, I was getting used to the game, and we were warming up," she recalled. "I remember the coaches always told me, 'follow through on your swing, Aaliyah! follow through!' But I could never just get it. Every time I'd go to hit the ball, it'd hit the back wall. It'd just sail out. I was so embarrassed. That's something that I'll always remember."
Safe to say, Callaway is no longer embarrassing herself. Instead, she's embarrassing opposing defenses.
Callaway talked more with VYPE.
VYPE: What do you see yourself doing 5-10 years from now?
CALLAWAY: Hopefully still playing in college. Hopefully almost graduated and then going on to medical school. I want to be either a pediatrician or an anesthesiologist.
VYPE: Who's been the inspiration for you when it comes to sports?
CALLAWAY: There's this volleyball player, she just graduated from college at Northwestern, and her name is Alana Walker. I first saw her a couple years ago on TikTok. It's just her intensity that I love and her drive for the sport. I love watching her play.
VYPE: What's your take on the NIL (name, image, likeness) rule change?
CALLAWAY: I'm definitely all for it. I've been talking about this for a while. I used to write papers on this a lot in middle school and high school. Athletes work very hard to create a name for themselves and they should be able to benefit off of that.
VYPE: What would be the coolest thing that you'd want to sponsor?
CALLAWAY: TikTok. I love TikTok. I'm always on TikTok and it's an app that has a hold on the world right now, so I think it'd be very fun to do.
PLAYING VOLLEYBALL IN THE 1980S FOR ALDINE HIGH SCHOOL, LYNDA EASTLAND KNEW OF MACARTHUR AND THE POWERHOUSE THAT THEY WERE.
Nearly four decades later, Eastland – who has been the head coach of those Big Mac Lady Generals for the past 14 seasons – had a goal to get the team back to that power-program status.
In 2020, they took step one – winning a District Championship.
"This is a big deal on the mail route," Eastland said with a chuckle. "It brings a lot to the community and for this volleyball program. I knew the expectations coming in. One of mine was to bring back a District Championship."
Winning the district crown in 2020 over rival- Spring was big for MacArthur. It was the first time since the 1981 season – so 39 years ago – that they got to take the gold ball back to Big Mac.
"I knew with the mentality of the girls that I had that they had a yearning to do it," Eastland said. "You could just see something different in each athlete."
The turning point for the season came in a team bonding session, Eastland said and from that moment they got rolling.
"They learned how to have each other's back," she said. "They treated each other as a family. They didn't look at barriers we could see. We learned to see why a person is the way they are and not judge how they are. They were able to break down those barriers."
Now, what's the encore?
"We have a beginning, now we need a continuation," Eastland said. "If it's the District Championship, it'll come out. These girls are able, I have no doubt. But they don't put that pressure on themselves. They just believe in coming in, working hard and getting it done."
When MacArthur won the district crown back in '81, it was a part of a back-to-back title run for the program, which the current Lady Generals have their sights set on.
"Our goal for this year is to get another gold ball," Jasmine Rutledge said. "So, we've got to work at it and keep grinding. No rest, no sleep because we know what we want."
Emeli Muagututi'a added: "I think leadership is a big thing to keep that going, so you can keep the same culture going. The people that are new will just fill into that same kind of culture."
This squad does bring back the pieces to make such a run in 2021 with, of course, Spring circling their matches against MacArthur to try and take it back.
But Eastland has "the winning formula" to deliver another gold ball package on the mail route.
"It's going to be people. It's going to be culture. It is our preparation and execution," she said. "That's our game plan."