Number 36, September 8, 2015
Emma Anderson ‘16 likes a challenge and the Coastal Georgia senior volleyball player knew she was taking on a big one when she accepted an offer to play for the Mariners prior to last season.
Now a year later, Anderson is getting set for round two of that challenge and she is doing so with less trepidation as she prepares to once again balance her rigorous academic schedule with the demands of playing for a nationally-ranked volleyball program.
"I'm still a little scared, but I know what's coming," she said this week during a break between preseason practices.
Last year, that wasn't necessarily the case. The Lincoln, Ill., native was taking a leap of faith when she came here to play volleyball and also pursue a nursing degree at Coastal Georgia which has a renowned nursing program with a rigid curriculum.
She somewhat knew what to expect. Numerous talks with Coastal Georgia senior Holly Hammer who also was enrolled in the nursing program, gave her a good idea of what she would face. But, it took diving into the experience to fully grasp the academic and athletic demands she would encounter the next two years.
"It's just a lot of time," Anderson said, referring mostly to her academic workload. "If you put the hours in, it's fine. But, it does get really exhausting."
Anderson was rewarded immediately on the volleyball court in her first year at Coastal Georgia. She was a key cog in the team's arsenal last season when it finished with a best-ever 35-4 record and finished ranked No. 23 in the final NAIA rankings. She helped the Mariners sweep the Southern States Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships and also win their first-ever match in the national tournament to qualify for the final site in their first tournament appearance.
Anderson hopes the team will have even more success this season, and again she will likely play a big role in any success the Mariners might have after leading the team with 386 kills last season and earning third-team All-America honors.
Anderson, of course, hopes to be rewarded with her nursing degree this spring to close out her time at Coastal Georgia.
"I remember telling (coaches Jeff Huebner and Alli Kirk) last spring that if I past these classes I was taking second semester that coming here would be the best decision I ever made," Anderson now says.
For Anderson, the opportunity here at Coastal Georgia has given her the chance to resurrect her volleyball career which she had given up on two years earlier while also working toward becoming a nurse after college, following in the footsteps of her mother who also is a nurse.
How she got from Illinois to the Georgia coast is interesting.
Huebner was familiar with Anderson's story. He was her club coach with the Illini Elite before he came to Coastal Georgia himself in 2011 to start the volleyball program. Anderson earned a scholarship to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville and was playing well for the Cougars until suffering a broken foot in her freshman season.
She returned from the injury and played for the team through her sophomore season in 2012, but Anderson knew she wasn't the same player and had lost her desire to play the game as a result.
She chose to give up volleyball and make school her sole focus, largely because she knew she wanted to go into nursing and the academic requirements to do so are very demanding. She returned home to Lincoln and enrolled at the local school, Lincoln College, where she planned to earn her degree.
But when Huebner began recruiting Anderson's sister Leah, who is a freshman setter for the Mariners this season, the coach also offered her a second chance at volleyball with the opportunity to pursue her nursing dreams here as well.
It puzzled Anderson that Huebner would actually encourage that difficult mix, but of course she was intrigued from the start and ultimately accepted the offer.
"The competitive itch, I guess that's what got me," she says.
That competitive instinct is also what gets Anderson through the grind of volleyball and schoolwork.
Once school and volleyball begins, if she isn't doing one, she's doing the other. About all she has time for otherwise is taking an occasional power nap and eating meals.
Between the classes, labs, clinical work and all the study time that comes with being a nursing student and also playing volleyball, a typical weekday for her might start with a 6 a.m. practice and end at 2 a.m. when she closes her text book for the final time.
"It takes everything to stay up that late and be up for practice that early," Anderson says.
Of course, the weekends during the season include matches, possibly long road trips to away contests and even more studying that has to be done at home or while traveling the highway with the team.
"And when you have two tests on a Monday, that's when it's the hardest," Anderson explains.
As you might imagine, student-athletes oftentimes find this task too daunting and are forced to give up athletics or remain in sports but choose a field of study that is less stringent on their time. Some coaches won't even consider allowing a nursing student on his or her team because they see it as a recipe for failure.
But, Huebner isn't one of those. As long as he knows an athlete is committed to the challenge, he's willing to allow them to chase both their athletic and academic dreams.
"We're willing to make it work," he says. "We want our kids to compete at a high level and also get what they want academically at the same time."
Hammer completed a decorated career with the Mariners last fall before completing her nursing degree in the spring. Now, Anderson, who leaned heavily on her former teammate mostly for emotional support last year, has a year to go in the volleyball and nursing programs while junior teammate Rachel Amundson is also now enrolled in the nursing program.
For Anderson, the volleyball side of the equation has been much easier to master, but still that was a process as well last year. She had to get back into playing shape and also knock off the rust after having not played much competitively after leaving her previous school.
Anderson steadily regained her form, and by season's end, she was playing as good as she ever has, she says.
At the SSAC tournament, Anderson led all players in kills. She averaged nearly five kills per set and finished with 19 kills in both the semifinals and finals on the way to tournament MVP honors
In the opening match of the NAIA tournament, she led the Mariners over Embry-Riddle with 22 kills.
"She was just playing at a different level at conference and also in the national tournament," Huebner said. "She was pretty special."
Anderson battled some shoulder issues last season just because of all the swings she took after having not played in so long, but never had any problems with the foot that she broke her freshman year.
She actually improved her jump touch two inches last season from 9 feet, 6 inches to 9-8 by the end of the year.
"I remember jumping high enough to see over the block in that Embry-Riddle match," she said. "I'd never done that before."
Already this preseason, Anderson has jump-touched over 10 inches and Huebner has been delighted with her performance in camp.
"She looks even better this year," Huebner said. "She's just such a good leader and competes every day. I also think being a senior has changed her mentality in a lot of really good ways."
By Kevin Price, Sports Information Director