Every time Emma McElveen takes to the volleyball court there is one thing that is all but assured: She’s going to rack up assists.
That was the case for the senior setter against West Orange High. It felt like another normal game for McElveen, so there was no pomp and circumstance, but little did she know that history had been made.
During the 30-assist night, McElveen eclipsed 2,000 assists — becoming one of a handful of high-school volleyball players in the history of Orange County to reach that mark. It was a grand achievement that sealed up McElveen’s place as a Titan great, even though she had no clue what she had done until she was almost 100 assists past 2,000.
“I don’t really think about (stats) — I didn’t even know that I was going to achieve that,” McElveen said. “I found out a couple of days ago. My coach came up to me and he was like, ‘Hey if you have 20 more assists you break 2,100 assists,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ I was so confused.”
While her latest milestone was a bit of a surprise, it wasn’t much of a shock for her dad, Kevin McElveen — the school’s athletic director.
Through the years Kevin has watched his daughter grow into a star volleyball player, and it’s been a fun journey worth undertaking. Seeing Emma conquer milestone after milestone — leading up to her 2,000th assist — is something that couldn’t make him any prouder, he said.
“It has been really neat,” Kevin said. “I’ve been a big volleyball fan for quite awhile, and I started bringing her here to the games when she was just in middle school.
“I had a good relationship with the previous coach, Mitch Sadowsky, and Emma really looked up to him,” he said. “To see her perform the way he wanted her to is pretty special. And as far as being a dad, you always want the best for your kid, so when you actually see your kid performing well it’s kind of fun.”
FROM CHURCH LEAGUE TO HIGH SCHOOL
By the time she was checking out Olympia volleyball games with her dad, Emma had already taken a dive into the sport.
Although she originally started out as a softball player, at the age of 11, Emma was introduced to volleyball by a cousin who played in a church league at Foundation. It was different than what she had been used to, but she loved it.
“I like how it’s in A/C, that’s pretty nice,” Emma said with a laugh. “There’s not a big group of girls on the team normally, so we’re able to keep a really small family, and then the family always seems to be very strong with a lot of chemistry.”
Frustration kicked in early and often as Emma attempted to wrangle in varying aspects of the game, including having to face off against older girls who had years of experience over her, as well as speed, size and strength that she wasn’t used to.
“I had to learn a whole new language, how to run tempos and how to work with everyone — just developing the basics and the fundamentals of the sport,” Emma said.
Those early days were tough, but things would only get a bit tougher as Emma transitioned over from middle to high school. In fact, the expectation for her — before even stepping foot on campus as a student — was that she was going to be the starting setter on the varsity team.
“I don’t really think about (stats) — I didn’t even know that I was going to achieve that. I found out a couple of days ago. My coach came up to me and he was like, ‘Hey if you have 20 more assists you break 2,100 assists,’ and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ I was so confused.”
— Emma McElveen
Going into her freshman year there was some hesitation for Emma, who knew once again she’d have to take on older girls who were stronger and bigger than she was. To try and get ahead, Emma would stay after practices to get as many reps as possible before the start of the preseason — which started off in a way she wasn’t quite expecting.
On the bus ride over to Apopka, Emma recalled how wired and anxious she was, while all of her teammates were taking naps. Once they got to their game, her nerves showed up on the first serve of the game.
“As a setter you serve first, so you set the tone of the game in a sense,” Emma said. “I went back to the line and I was like, ‘Don’t miss it, you got it,’ and then I got it over and I tripped and fell on the court — on my face. But it’s OK, we laugh about it now.”
Now, as a captain of the team in her final year, Emma’s role is the same as those upperclassmen who helped her during her first year. Of all the things that Emma has enjoyed during her stint with the Titans, the most rewarding is that ability to give back to her younger teammates.
“My junior and senior year I came out with a little more confidence, as I tried to lead my team to the best that we can be,” Emma said. “That confidence, I’ve noticed, has rubbed off on the other girls. That’s (been) really nice.”