Alli Linnehan celebrates with teammates

Alli Linnehan settles into captaincy: 'Your growth is never over'

© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Savanna Collins
Nov 05, 2023

Earning the role of Athletes Unlimited is an experience only a select group of athletes have every season. It comes with a unique set of responsibilities and challenges that players have never encountered before — coaching and leading their own team while also playing.

Across all four sports, athletes either love it or hate it.

Alli Linnehan had a distinct journey in and out of captainship this year.

Following an undefeated opening week with Team Edmond, Linnehan propelled up the leaderboard to be a captain in Week Two and lead the orange team. She received advice from her former Kentucky teammate Leah Edmond about what to expect, but she struggled to find a balance between being an outside hitter and the decision-maker of her team.

“I’m somebody who’s a mega people pleaser, so I just want to make sure everyone’s happy and so I guess having to make a lot of decisions was really hard at first,” Linnehan explained. “I think Week Two really showed me that when that whistle blows, I just want to focus on playing and be relaxed and not have to worry: ‘Is this person playing well? Do I need to make changes?’ All of that.”

That’s where the facilitator comes in. This Volleyball season, Dave Rubio, Stephen Gbur, Brandon Directo, and Kayla Banwarth rotate through the teams as facilitators. Their role is to support the captains. An AU captain is in charge of every aspect of the teams’ week including practice, scouting reports, and game line ups, but some lean on their facilitator and other players on their team to share the load.

“Whenever I step on the court, I don’t want to be in charge of decision making … That was the biggest lesson that I learned and so I’ve delegated that. I’ve found some players who have a lot of experience on every team I’ve been on so far and just told them, ‘I don’t want that responsibility. Can you help?’ And everyone’s stepped up and been awesome in helping with that.”

Team Linnehan struggled in Week Two. They went 0-3 and didn’t win a set. If you’d have asked Linnehan then, she would have told you, “Sheesh, do not let me be back up there,” but her sentiment has changed since then.

Linnehan was the overall highest point earner in Week Three and moved back into the top four. This time, she was the captain of the blue team.

She led the group to a 2-1 record, winning six out of nine sets as the most successful team of Week Four. Individually, it was her best week yet too. She hit. 330 in those three games with 38 kills for her season-best 409 stat points. Linnehan was the highest point earner of the week for the second week in a row.

What changed? First, Linnehan learned she needed to pass on responsibilities to her facilitator once the matches started. But the other aspect was mental – she needed to let go of the pressure that as captain she needed to be a different player.

“I didn’t feel that (pressure) the very first day, I wasn’t stressed I was just excited to play and then I had a first couple of points that were a little shaky,” Linnehan said. “Then I think I just added this pressure to myself of, ‘Oh, I’m a captain, I’m supposed to be the best on the court right now. I have to be better.’ So then that’s when all that pressure and all the thoughts and our brains just kind of take off from there. And I felt like I just couldn’t get in control of those thoughts.”

Linnehan explained she felt like she took a deep breath going into Week Three to play “her game” and from there, it’s gone uphill.

She cruised through her second time as a captain and is leading the Orange team for the final weekend of the season. Linnehan not only experienced challenges so early in her first-ever AU season, but she had the opportunity to grow from it in such a short period of time.

“I’ve found my rhythm, I’ve found what has worked … I found those players who can help me and just settling into that role and realizing it’s not as big of a deal as you think. It’s just a little title next to your name, but just go out and play your game and it’s all good. So I’ve definitely come around to liking it.”

Linnehan has continued to master the role; her team won the first game of Week Five and two out of three sets. Along with her personal growth, she feels her volleyball perspective shifting through being a captain.

“I’ve definitely had to think more instead of just trying to win it with those six or seven [on the court]… You need to figure out how can we use these 10 or 11 players to our advantage. Everyone here is phenomenal. Everyone’s a professional and can do their job well,” she said.

“Before coming in here, I would say I had a pretty solid knowledge of volleyball just from playing for so many years … I have learned that I have so much more to learn, which is actually really cool. Your growth is never over.”

Heading into the final two days of the season, Linnehan hold the No. 2 spot on the leaderboard and is 123 points behind Edmond. The former Kentucky teammates will face off in the final matchup of the season on Monday evening as they battle for the title of Champion.


Savanna Collins is the Digital Media Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.

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