MENDOTA – Peter Parker had a radioactive spider. Bailey O'Brien has a volleyball court.
Much like the arachnid's bite turned an anxiety-addled Parker into Spider-Man, O'Brien, an admittedly worrisome Rock Falls freshman, becomes a veritable superhero when she steps onto the hardwood.
And to think when she was in fifth grade, she practically had to be strong-armed into action.
"I wouldn't even step onto the court," O'Brien said. "I'd tell my coach, 'No,' that I didn't want to play."
Similarly, Rockets coach Sheila Mammosser pretty much had to pry her prodigy away from the lower ranks.
"When I called her up she said, 'I just wanna play with my friends.' " Mammosser recalled. "I told her she was not staying down at the freshman level."
Perhaps O'Brien was tentative because with great power comes great responsibility.
Comic-book cliches aside, O'Brien was a 5-foot-5 bundle of dynamite Thursday on far-and-away the biggest sports stage on which she's played. She carved out all four of her aces in Set 1, including the last two points of the 25-11 tone-setting romp.
When Dunlap pushed back in Set 2 and seized momentary momentum, O'Brien stopped the Eagles' freight train with a rocket of a kill from left to right, painting the far boundary.
If Coach Mammosser could've crafted a player in a lab, she'd swing like O'Brien – with equal parts God-given talent and reckless abandon.
I admit, I love a crafty tip kill, but I don't want to see one from O'Brien. With each of her seven kills, the whiplash effect of her swing brought my posterior another quarter-inch off the bleacher. Objectivity? Near-impossible when I see a diminutive freshman finding a way to turn every ounce of her frame into court-scorching lightning bolts.
That's just fun, whether you've got a dog in the fight or not.
Comic buffs will recall that when the Avengers got the band back together, Spider-Man accepted an invitation. The second incarnation of that ensemble is an appropriate one to compare to what's going on with Rock Falls volleyball right now.
As long as the train keeps rolling this season, O'Brien will never need to be the conductor. She's on a team chock full of stars, all willing to help her continue her meteoric rise that began about a month ago.
After Thursday's match, O'Brien's teammates gushed about the frosh phenom. Reigning SVM volleyball player of the year Morgan Mammosser called her "definitely the best freshman I've ever seen in my life." She also smiled from ear to ear when asked about what O'Brien's like while court is not in session.
"She's a nervous person, but during matches she doesn't show it on the outside, which is really good," the senior Mammosser said. "She's just constantly focused on playing, not getting too high in her self-esteem, or go down when she makes a mistake."
O'Brien says she's getting calmer with every passing game, after which she has a tendency to vanish quickly.
She wasn't so lucky Thursday. I caught the budding superhero just in time to reveal her identity.