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She is not afraid to give her body up for a ball about to hit the floor.

She is not timid stepping behind the line and unleashing a powerful serve even if sails long or crashes into the net.

She is not reluctant to be the vocal presence in the back row.

Raised in a household with three siblings, including a teenage brother, Emma VanSeveren quickly learned she could not survive being passive.

Basketball coaches often steered the now 5-foot-7 VanSeveren toward playing in the post because she wasn’t hesitant to push people around.

“I was always aggressive growing up,” the Davenport Assumption senior libero said. “It has really helped me grow as a person and made me mentally strong.”

That fearless attitude is displayed in VanSeveren’s play on the volleyball court for the Knights, who head to the Class 3A state tournament in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday for a 10 a.m. showdown with Osage.

VanSeveren led the Mississippi Athletic Conference and was among the top eight in 3A with 4.96 digs per set this season. She was a first team all-MAC selection and has been selected to play in the Iowa vs. Illinois Senior All-Star match later this month.

“You can’t be afraid to hit the floor,” VanSeveren said. “It almost has to be your best friend. You always have to make that last-minute effort to save the ball.

“You don’t care what it takes to get it.”

It can come with a price.

During Assumption’s match against Davenport Central this season, VanSeveren dove for a ball and injured her knee. The inflammation forced her to miss about a week.

“There are some kids you have to pull that inner drive out of, but with Emma, it is always there,” Assumption coach Bre Scherler said. “She is going to go after it no matter what.

“She almost has the mindset of, if I’m the one who can change the momentum with a big dig, my teammates can see that and will do it as well.”

Defense has been at the forefront of the Knights’ 31-win season. They pace the 3A state field in blocking (3.29 per set) and are third in digs (16.35 per set).

VanSeveren has been the catalyst in the back row with her grit, hustle and leadership.

“Sometimes, we don’t get the credit,” she said, “but we’re always doing the dirty work and always pushing to better our team.”

That aggressive mentality extends to the service line.

VanSeveren has 52 aces this season, sixth most among players in the 3A state tournament.

“I’ve always been an aggressive server,” she said. “I want to stack up the aces, so I see it and go for it.”

It can lead to eight aces in a match against Davenport West or five versus Davenport Central. Conversely, it has resulted in 57 service miscues, just an 82-percent efficiency for the season.

“She’s been trending in the right direction lately, not giving away as many points,” Scherler said. 

Scherler has become well-acquainted with the VanSeveren family.

Her older sister, Sophie, was the libero on Assumption’s last state tournament team in 2016. Her younger sister, Lilly, will join the Knights’ program next fall as a libero.

“They’re very vocal defenders, very high volleyball IQs and real helpful to their teammates,” Scherler said. “They’re very focused on us, not I, and you can’t teach that in a lot of teenagers. They’re selfless.

“I’ve told (their mother) Heather you can keep bringing those liberos in year after year. I’ll take them.”

VanSeveren started volleyball in fifth grade. She also did basketball and softball, but volleyball became her first love because of the high intensity and limited running.

“I feel like when I was younger, I was in (Sophie’s) shadow,” she said. “I got more experience in high school, caught up to her and I think we’re at the same level and compete well together. She has always pushed me to become better.”

Sophie is in her second season playing volleyball at Holy Cross, a Division I school located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Emma will join her in the program next fall.

Yes, they’ll compete against each other for court time.

“We’re both very competitive,” Emma said. “It is going to be tough at first, but we both have the same goal to win a championship. We’ll merge together and become good teammates.”

Emma considered Colgate University and Wisconsin-Green Bay, but Holy Cross’ coaching staff assured her she would get to the NCAA Tournament.

First, she wants to prolong her high school career.

Co-champions of the MAC, Assumption is eyeing its first state tournament win since 2013. Osage is at state for a third straight year, reaching the semifinal round a season ago.

“This means everything because we’ve been working four years to get there,” VanSeveren said. “I think we can make it to at least the (semifinal) round, maybe even the (finals).

“We just have such a strong chemistry, and we’re not afraid to hold each other accountable.”

The Knights might not have the recent state volleyball tournament experience like their opponent, but several of Assumption’s players have competed on state tournament stages in soccer, track and softball.

“They know how to show up and win championships,” Scherler said, “but I want that to translate to the volleyball court and do something Assumption never has done.

“I want them to get over that hurdle and start winning something in volleyball.”


Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.