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Jan. 13, 2010
By Scott Lockwood
During her time at Sullivan, 2009 graduate Emily Sanders was considered by many to be one of the best volleyball players to have ever played at the school.
She parlayed that success into a scholarship to play at USC Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C. Upon her arrival last summer it was obvious she was in a whole other world.
"The move was really different for me, but I had immediate friends with my volleyball team and that's not something that every college student gets," Sanders said. "It was hard, the preseason stunk, but it was worth it. We have strength coaches and nutritional specialists. It's so much different than the high school level, especially with the competition."
Sanders played at a competitive volleyball club in Bloomington that helped her get adjusted to the speed of the college game. It was at one of the club tournaments where she first caught the eye of the Upstate coaching staff.
"I first saw Emily play at the JVDA in Louisville," USC Upstate head coach Jennifer Calloway said. "She was on a top team and I just kept going back to watch her play wondering if we had a shot at getting her. I thought instantly that she could add a much needed spark to our team. She was such a fun player to watch - intense and team spirited."
Sanders was one of three freshman to crack the starting lineup right away as a setter. The team opened the season with a tournament at Bradley University in Peoria which meant Sanders got to open her collegiate career in front of most of her family and friends. Upstate traveled to Nashville, where Sanders' parents came to see her play, and took two trips to Florida which included a win in the season finale against Stetson.
The Spartans started the regular season with an eight match losing streak before beating Wofford at home on Sept. 29 and defeating Stetson three days later to start A-Sun play. Despite the best efforts of the young Spartan team, they would lose 10 of their next 12 matches.
When the team won their season finale against Stetson, the Spartans set a Division I team record with 53 kills and gave Calloway her 100th career conference win.
Sanders, along with teammate and fellow A-Sun All-Freshman Team member Mindy Quimby, was also one of five freshmen to play more than 100 sets in the A-Sun. She led all conference freshmen with nine double-doubles (10 assists and 10 digs in a single match), including posting six in A-Sun play. Sanders was the only A-Sun freshman to post 500 assists on the year, finishing with 501 helpers, an average of 4.77 per set. She also finished tied for second among A-Sun freshmen in aces (21) and third in digs (222). She was also second in assists per set (4.7) and fourth in digs per set (2.11). In A-Sun play, Sanders led all conference freshmen in assists (352) and she was third in digs (148). She finished with 23 double-digit assist efforts.
Sanders and Quimby, who is also Sanders' roommate, were the first two players in school history to be named to the A-Sun All-Freshmen team (they had two Freshmen Players of the Year while they were in the Division II Peach Belt Conference.) The team is voted on by conference coaches and SIDs.
"I was so excited when I found out I made All-Freshmen," Sanders said. "It made me feel like all of my hard work paid off."
"I am so happy for Mindy and Emily," Calloway said. "I love that they have been selected by the A-Sun coaches. To see that the other coaches recognize their sincere attitude and die-hard efforts on the court each time they played says something pretty special about them. These coaches see our team only two times a year and it's so refreshing to know that they could see how hard we see these two work on a day-to-day basis."
The Spartans are only losing two seniors to graduation and will have more of an Illinois flare next season with two more recruits coming in from the Illini state.
"I'm so excited about it already," Sanders said. "I'm looking for a lot of wins next season."
Calloway says Sanders figures to be a key piece in the puzzle as both she and the team continue to develop.
"The sky is the limit for Emily," she said. "With her work ethic and self motivation, Emily will only grow to be one of the best setters to come out of Upstate. Emily is one of those players that you just want to find a spot for on the floor, no matter the position. She has the ability to motivate a team with her style of play. She is an amazing defensive player and is not afraid of hitting the floor and chasing down a ball. I expect our young team to mature in their style of play, being able to mentally play each point with a consistency. We have great athletes who love to compete. I expect this group of girls to lead us to our first conference tournament in A-Sun history. Emily is a big part of the core."