The following article is courtesy of LaSalle University with comments added from Pennsbury coach Tim Paulson.
PHILADELPHIA – Emily Merrick is not your average student-athlete.
Merrick, a freshman on the La Salle volleyball team, is one of five newcomers to the program in 2009-10. Just like her teammates, she practices every day, participates regularly in matches, travels on road trips and receives gear. However, there is one key difference that sets Merrick apart. She is a walk-on.
From receiving all medium “La Salle Volleyball” t-shirts at the beginning of the season to leading the Explorers in attack percentage (.185) as the starting middle blocker, Merrick has taken huge strides to get to where she is now.
“[Emily] originally gained the starting position because of an injury to another player,” La Salle head coach Dave Stever said. “Once we saw what she could do at the middle blocker position, we became very happy. She’s very deceptive as a small hitter.”
Merrick is listed at five-foot-eight and is arguably one of the smallest at her position in the nation. Despite her impact as a freshman, the Yardley, PA, native did not see collegiate volleyball in her future until midway through the summer.
“I had a lot of catching up to do,” Merrick said. “I was a little nervous because I was the only walk-on, but it was great to meet new people right away.”
Merrick wasted no time in solidifying herself as an everyday player on the volleyball team regardless of her “walk-on” status. She posted back-to-back six kill performances in the first two matches of September including a season-high nine kills against Lehigh on Sept. 15. She also the team in total blocks with 39 (34=6 BA, 3 BS).
As a freshman walk-on who saw her minutes and statistics increase over the course of the season, Merrick has not drifted away from all the hard work that got her here. Working harder than the next person has kept her grounded and improved her skill set at the same time.
“During preseason, I had to earn my spot,” Merrick said. “When I was in high school, I had a really strict coach. We couldn’t make any mistakes and now, playing in college, I feel like I need to make even less mistakes to prove myself.”
“Her determination started before I even met her,” said Stever. “For anyone who is trying out for a team, there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through and Emily didn’t hesitate one bit. She did not let anything stop her.”
Merrick carried over her production into conference action when she achieved a .444 attack percentage (5K-1E-9TA) against both Xavier and Duquesne in October. The undersized middle blocker has been a nice complement to an already solid freshman class for Stever and his staff.
Emily Merrick is the ideal example for anyone who is looking to join a team. The path may have taken longer for Merrick, but it shows that hard work pays off.
Pennsbury coach Tim Paulson described his former player as hard working and passionate.
“She was one of the hardest working players I have ever had,” the Falcons’ coach said. “It doesn’t surprise me that she made the team. That she was starting was surprising at first, but not once you think of her work ethic and the skills she learned in high school.
“At Pennsbury, I try to run a quick middle attack all the time, just like LaSalle and other colleges do, so our middles are well prepared for the college game. Most high schools don’t try to run the fast tempo because it’s very hard to do and often more trouble than it is worth. You need excellent passing, a great setter and middles that work hard every day.
“Emily busted her butt. She got up early every time, and she cut the ball better than any middle I have had.”