Shortly before her high school championship game, freshman setter Emily Clemens received news that she was named one of the Top 24 players in the country, selected as a first-team Under Armour All-American.
Now, the 5-foot-11-inch setter out of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who started on her high school varsity team for five years, is one of GW’s best recruits in program history. Clemens is a complete player, and a key piece to the Colonials’ success this season, said women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Ault.
“She is vocal when she needs to be, she knows how to run a team, and that comes from being a setter,” Ault said. “There is being able to distribute the ball as a setter, and there is also the mind of a setter. She absolutely has that.”
Less than a year ago, though, Clemens was an unlikely candidate to even suit up in a GW uniform.
For most heavily recruited high school athletes, decisions are made about their collegiate futures by the start of their senior year. Clemens was unique, holding out to make sure she found her best college fit.
Ault, who initially passed on aggressively recruiting Clemens in 2012, was surprised to find a still-uncommitted Clemens at the end of her senior season.
“I went back out for the first recruiting weekend and saw her play again and said to myself, ‘There’s no way she is still available’,” Ault said. “She had been contacted by dozens and dozens of schools, but it turns out she just hadn’t found her fit.”
One of the things that drew Ault to again seek out Clemens was her switch from setter – a position she had played the last four years – to outside-hitter her senior year. Moving to the outside-hitter position is no easy task, but Clemens agreed without hesitation. On the pin, Clemens led her team to a 15-4 record and an appearance at the Suffolk County championship game, which her team lost in the fifth and final set by just two points.
By the end of the process, Clemens had narrowed it down to five schools: Winthrop, Towson, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth and GW. Ultimately for Clemens, the combination of the Foggy Bottom area, GW’s academic stature and up-and-coming women’s volleyball program led her to choose GW in the middle of her club volleyball season.
“I was never worried, because I knew the fit was right for her and I could feel that from her as well,” Ault said. “One thing that stood out to me was when she met the team: You could see her shoulders go down, she took a breath and was relaxed. She went off with them for a while, and from then, I knew it would be a great fit.”
Although Clemens has yet to play a match for the Colonials – who are still preparing for Friday’s season opener against Maryland – she has already impressed the coaching staff with her ability and versatility, showcasing that on the court during the Buff and Blue scrimmage last Saturday.
“When I’m on the court, I forget about everything. When I’m off the court, I have a lot on my mind and am thinking about so much,” Clemens said. “On the court, it’s different. I feel like I’m very aggressive. Not aggressive like I’m-going-to-punch-you aggressive, but for every ball that I see, I try to get up and do whatever I can to keep that ball in play.”
During a timeout, senior middle blocker Jamie Armstrong stepped up to lead the huddle and address the team’s lack of rhythm. Clemens, too, offered advice and encouragement to her teammates, who showed her the same respect as they did Armstrong. It’s a leadership role that Clemens naturally inhabits, Ault said.
“She’s definitely comfortable asking questions out there or speaking her mind,” Ault said. “She takes over sometimes, and it’s really refreshing to see that from a freshman.”
Already an outstanding player in her own right, Clemens will need to adjust to the quicker pace of the collegiate level. Those changes start with hard work on the little things, such as feet alignment and hand position.
Clemens is a natural talent, Ault said, and has a high volleyball IQ on the court, allowing her to make plays on the floor that leave one wondering how she accomplished them.
“She’s a quiet kid off the floor and maybe she comes off a little shy, but when she plays out there she is a leader,” Ault said. “She demands the ball and she does everything for the betterment of the team.”